Now, I for one have written on this franchise on this site on a few occasions, once in theory and once when news broke. Similar to the way in which some can engage in auteur criticism, I feel that series and/or franchises can burrow out their own niche and create their own sort of scale. After all, when judging a film for what it’s trying to be the fact that it’s an installment in, or a continuation of, a series factors in.
When I wrote on Home Alone continuing and/or rebooting the idea I was leveraging was the fact that this is now a conceptual series. The series of films is predicated on a kid or kids being caught at home, without their parents, having to defend their house, and ultimately themselves. It almost always had to be that way. Disregarding the fact that in part two Kevin is not home, the fact that he is separated from his family anew is a major challenge to suspension of disbelief. So it was always likely to, and thankfully has, become a series wherein its concept-driven. Thus, whatever the other challenges brought up to each installment how Kevin gets lost again, is no longer a concern. Horror franchises with iconic killers have that issue of trying to bring back their seemingly dead, yet ultimately immortal lead – this is a major encumbrance lifted.
When I wrote about it as a news item it was to confirm that one of my wild postulations was really coming to fruition. I do have a tendency to err on the side of positivity over cynicism more often than not, but I had a few reasons to be optimistic. Based on the casting and story news that came out it seemed like the upcoming film would return closer to the core of what these films are. The series went out on a limb in part three and broke said limb off in part four. This looked like a very promising restart based on early indicators.
So? Now, it’s aired, and I’ve seen it, what did I make of it? The short version of it is that there was room for this film to be much more than a decent, enjoyable restart had there been some shifts in focus, both story and production-wise. Having said that after the precipitous slope the franchise was on, this is welcome and refreshing course correction for the most part. It’s just that the potential existed for it to surpass even my modestly lofty expectations.
The best elements of the film are: the booby-trapping motif is introduced prior to the reality of burglary dawning on the characters, the in-jokes regarding the series are plenty good, the performances of Christian Martyn (whose turn in this archetype I’d rank as best barring Culkin) and Jodelle Ferland (whose inclusion and progression adds an interesting dynamic to the film), the dichotomy of Finn’s character and its slight, steady arching; and the presence of the seemingly random neighbor-kid (Peter DaCunha) who does occasionally add humor and plot functionality.
Where the film misses opportunities in narrative is that it tries too hard to shoehorn what it feels are mandatory elements of a Home Alone film such as a misunderstood stranger who befriends the lead and doesn’t have a place to go for Christmas. Yes, there are anticipated elements, but each narrative has its own set of dynamics and fitting molds or formulas at times restricts the tale at hand.
An example of not wanting to fit a mold is giving the crooks a lot more backstory and justification than is really necessary. The emphasis on name recognition for the triad of crooks (Malcolm McDowell, Debi Mazar and Eddie Steeples) I feel is detrimental to the film because they get over-exposed and over-wrought and the parents are under-written and under-represented.
The dialogue misfires quite a few times which is a shame when there are some good situations introduced, but there are the occasional good cinematic touches, which goes beyond the production design, there is the rotoscopic montage of the booby trap prep and some of the set-ups for the crooks are visually intriguing.
I enjoyed this film but what wass perhaps most surprising is that there were opportunities for it to be more than just a pleasant pastime and be a legitimately, unassailably solid upgrade to the sequels that had come to this series that could even serve as a springboard. Shortcomings are almost inevitable in any film, it just seems that they came in unexpected areas here and some harder elements were well-executed and some given less priority. However, it ultimately serves its purpose as a redemptive feature for the series, but could’ve been much more.