Directed By: Chris Columbus
Written By: John Hughes
Produced By: John Hughes
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard, Roberts Blossom
MPAA Rating: PG
Runtime: 103 minutes
Review Date: December 17, 2010
Parts of Home Alone are so ingrained in my memory that I noticed my brain filling in lines of dialogue before they were spoken on screen. Take into consideration that I didn’t watch this movie repeatedly as a child, either, and honestly, I don’t recall the last time I saw it. It’s simply that the script by John Hughes is either memorable or predictable, and I’d rather not make such a sweeping judgment one way or the other.
It’s certainly a fine setup to be sure. Granted, the plot itself is far too reliant on people not thinking rationally for it to be plausible on its own, but the sense of joy young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) feels when he realizes his family has, by all appearances, vanished is right, as is the fear of being alone in a huge house where the furnace makes strange noises and the sounds outside at night are, for once, signs of genuine threat. That Kevin is an obnoxious brat is unfortunate, and his growth into a responsible kid who does his own laundry and grocery shopping is cheapened by his sudden transition into a little, torturous sociopath. The movie follows suit, switching from a situation comedy into a slapstick-heavy farce.
Before that odd last act, though, is the story of how Kevin’s family accidentally leaves him at home while they rush off to catch their flight to Paris for Christmas (he was sent to the attic as punishment). In midflight, his mom (Catherine O’Hara) realizes the mistake and encounters booked flight after booked flight in her attempt to make it back before something happens to Kevin (or before he wises up, calls the cops, and has his parents arrested for child endangerment when they get back).
He, though, is having a ball, jumping on his parents’ bed, running around the entire house screaming (he does a lot of that, including using stinging aftershave twice because, again, these characters don’t act logically), eating a whole plate of junk food, shooting his older brother’s BB gun, and watching an old, violent movie he’s not allowed to see. Meanwhile, a pair of bungling burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) has a plan to rob all the homes of people away from vacation on Kevin’s block, including Kevin’s.
At a certain point, the happiness turns to longing, the dread of the unknown disappears, and Kevin goes from a kid complaining about not having a cheese pizza to ordering one for himself and messing with the delivery guy by making it seem someone in the house is shooting at him (a scene that makes no sense in context except to establish it before he uses the same gag to frighten away one of the prying robbers). The snow-shovel-carrying next-door neighbor (Roberts Blossom) isn’t a diabolical murderer but a lonely old man who misses his family, can teach Kevin a lesson about family, and can take away a lesson from the kid about facing one’s fears. That’s a nice scene, and so are a couple involving mom hitching a ride with a polka band led by Gus Polinski (John Candy), who tries to make her temporary abandonment not seem so bad.
Then there’s the climax, as the thieves try to enter the house only to encounter a string of nasty booby traps Kevin has planned out using cartoon logic, like that an iron to the face will only leave a comical imprint, branding a man’s hand or burning his scalp with a blowtorch will only leaving him not-swearing yelling (“Ratchet, fratchet, kratchet!”) as he dives into the snow, and it will be the barefoot man who happens upon the open window with glass ornaments laid out on the floor.
The extended sequence is off-putting on its own and especially in the context of the rest of Home Alone, which seems to arbitrarily corner its young hero into such desperation through happenstance (leaving him alone in the first place) and foolishness (Kevin not calling the cops until midway through inflicting punishment), simply for some good, old-fashioned schadenfreude.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.