Like bandits who never learn, people still insist on reviving the Home Alone franchise in the year of our Lord 2021, replete with the same abject cruelty inflicted by children upon adults as per Christmas tradition. This time, though, feels different, as this latest installment, the cornily titled Home Sweet Home Alone, dares to show some actual Christmas kindness for once and asks: what if we cared about the thieves this time?
Director Dan Mazer relinquishes some of the raunchy comedic chops that he’s become known for, courtesy of Da Ali G Show and Dirty Grandpa, to deliver a family-friendly affair that’ll keep Disney+ investors happy. Mazer likely succeeds in keeping the Disney+ folk happy but ultimately drops the ball in celebrating the 30-year legacy of one of the most beloved holiday franchises in pop culture.
Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney play this installment’s sympathetic heisters, a married couple in debt and searching for a very expensive heirloom they believe was stolen from them. When they realize that a British kid in their neighborhood is the likely culprit, they hatch a plan to get it back to avoid losing their home. True to franchise form, a lot of painful traps are set off during their heist, with each one so much more agonizing than the last that could they give the cast of Jackass a run for their money.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Kemper and Delaney are the protagonists of this traditionally child-centric Christmas tale because the movie makes a compelling case for it. Their struggles as parents and breadwinners of their household serve as the heist’s impetus as they face the prospect of losing their home. And were it not for the Home Alone DNA, you’d also be forgiven for thinking that Max Mercer, a snarky rich British kid, is the true big bad of this tale. Perhaps the milking of this franchise was always bound to try new things but positing a financially struggling family as the butt of a rich kid’s pranks might not be the best spin on the material. The aforementioned Christmas kindness on display feels all for naught.
The usual sentiment that comes with every remake/sequel that features a new cast rings true here: Home Sweet Home Alone just doesn’t have the same magic as the original. The new cast is mostly harmless and, through no fault of their own, are restricted from doing any remarkable work by Mikey Day and Streeter Streidell‘s script. The mother, played Aisling Bea, is painfully set aside to provide no drama as she merely books a flight home from Tokyo, a stark contrast to Catherine O’Hara‘s woeful journey home through the lonely winter of 1990.
Kemper and Delaney do their best to be the defacto baddies of the piece, but there’s a striking dissonance between the movie’s sympathetic portrayal of their backstory and Mazer’s direction. The movie tries to make it seem like they’re as dumb and mean as the Wet Bandits and therefore deserving to be the recipient of a child’s Christmas wrath when they’re clearly not. Hearing their agonizing screams isn’t as fun anymore.
Archie Yates is this holiday’s Kevin McAllister. Yates is fine in the role, but the sweet naivete he emanated in 2019’s Jojo Rabbit would have added a needed warmness to the coldness of the writing. It’s not the star-making performance that turned McCulley Culkin into a superstar overnight, but Yates carries with him the confidence of a great young actor, and at the very least, this movie wears that on its sleeve.
There’s also a stacked crew of supporting comedians the film has at its disposal, but they all end up beleaguered. Kenan Thompson shows up for a few gags that go nowhere. That his fellow sketch greats Chris Parnell and Andrew Daly are robbed of doing what they do best in a film that sorely needs some holiday cheer is a travesty. Also a travesty is Pete Holmes hogging all the scenes better left to his funnier co-stars.
There’s a decent new Home Alone movie deep within the floorboards of this franchise, but a dull vision and cheerless script are ultimately what keep it from the light of day. Should there be more plans of continuing this increasingly wistful holiday tradition, a Christmas miracle might be needed to make up for Home Sweet Home Alone.