Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
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The Franchise: Home Alone — a “themed franchise” dealing with scenarios in which a small boy winds up alone in an adult world where he must fend for himself while also being pitted against the nefarious activities of adults. The franchise’s hallmarks are the clever ruses and cartoon violence that our lil’ hero uses against the adult antagonists. The series spans four films, from 1990 to 2002.
The Installment: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Two years have past since Kevin McCallister thought he murdered his entire family with a single wish, and it seems he hasn’t really learned his lesson. After his older brother Buzz embarrasses him at a Christmas pageant, Kevin once more causes a scene that puts him at odds with the rest of the McCallister clan. Irked, this time around he at least spares his family a wish of non-existence, and wishes simply that he could take his own vacation. And once more fate was listening. While his family is hurrying to their flight to Florida, Kevin accidentally gets on a plane headed for New York City. Once there he uses his dad’s credit card to check into the hoitiest of toity hotels, where he falls under the suspicious eye of Mr. Hector (Tim Curry), the hotel concierge. During his time in NY, Kev befriends a homeless lady (Brenda Fricker) who loves pigeons and lives in Central Park, and a kindly old toy shop owner named Mr. Duncan (Preston Sturges regular Eddie Bracken), who is gathering a chest full of cash to give to unfortunate children. As it turns out, Kev isn’t the only one hiding out in NY. The Wet Bandits are too, having escaped from prison, and coincidentally, they’re planning to rob Mr. Duncan’s toy shop on Xmas Eve. This Kevin can not abide. Wacky violence ensues.
Viewed by itself, detached from the franchise, Home Alone 2 functions pleasurably enough. We have funny actors and funny filmmakers doing their thing with money to burn. That is far from a guaranteed recipe for high quality, but one that usually provides something passable to watch. That is this.
Like in the first film, once again John Hughes works his mojo on a well-structured and oddly plausible set-up. Even in a silly comedy like this it is still pretty hard to believe that Kevin’s parents could lose him again at the exact same time of year under the exact same circumstances, only two years later. That is part of the joke, of course, but that joke is going to be all the funnier if Hughes and Columbus don’t get all wink-winky and lazily detached on us. I for one still want to believe (in a farcical sense) that this could happen. And I do. The wink-winks come in the right places, like when the McCallisters are loaded up in their airport van and Kate suddenly gets scared and asks “Where’s Kevin?” Then Kevin turns around, from the shotgun seat, revealing that he had been in the van the whole time, and just went unnoticed. Funny. And the crux of the airport farce, where Kevin gets sidetracked retrieving batteries from his dad’s bag, and ends up following another man who is wearing his dad’s exact coat — ridiculous, but classic farce. Funny. Compared with the rest of the film, this sequence shows a lot of concern on Hughes part, as far as respecting the audience. He almost goes out of his way to cover all the logic bases to get Kevin separated from his family. And I loved the scene in which Kate realizes Kevin has been lost again, with the family at baggage claim in Florida, handing Kevin’s bag down the entire fourteen person McCallister line, each saying “Hand this to Kevin,” the bag reaching the end and then being handed all the way back, each saying “He’s not here,” until we again reach Kate and she freaks out. Good old-fashioned comedic bit right there, my friends.
Though I think the film could have done much more with the idea, and in better funnier ways, there is some good comedy mined from the fact that this has all happened before and how that affects Kate and Peter McCallister’s reactions. The most understated scene in the film (possibly the only understated scene in the film), is when Kate and Peter are talking with a police officer in Florida, who seems a little put-off by the McCallister’s light attitude. “We never forget our luggage,” they joke, which of course gets a judgmental look from the officer. Once again Catherine O’Hara carries these sections of the film. She can do a lot with just facial expressions, especially in scenes like this where we can see her inner battle between a mother who has been through this before and one who is embarrassed by what strangers must think of her for having lost her son, again.
I have problems with how the Plaza Hotel fits into the larger movie and how it relates to our hero, but if we ignore aspects of the backstory, there is a some decent comedy to be found here too. For one thing, it is hard to go wrong with Tim Curry as an adversary in an over-the-top kids film — it is really what God designed him to do. And Rob Schneider (back when it was kind of novel to see him pop up in a film) and Dana Ivey make for enjoyable sidekicks to Curry. The film’s lame rehash of the Angels With Filthy Souls routine from the first film is pretty great, as far as lame rehashes go, with Kevin using the gangster movie audio to force the trio and two security guards into doing and saying a variety of demeaning things (such as screaming that they “love” Kevin). And Dana Ivey has one of the film’s best lines, when Kate angrily asks her “What kind of idiots do you have working here?” And she proudly replies “The finest in New York!”
And though it is barely a moment, I laughed loud and hard when Buzz tries to get the family’s attention by whistling through his fingers and winds up simply producing a gross spitting sound, but carries on anyway, as though his badass whistle had been successful.
What Doesn’t Work:
As I see it, there are two basic kinds of bad movie sequels. 1) The kind that no one wanted to touch, where a studio pushed the sequel forward, probably cutting the budget in half and replacing most of the cast and behind-the-camera creative members who weren’t enthused about returning. And 2) the kind where everyone is back and more money is being spent, but no one really gives a shit like they did before. In a perfect world Home Alone should not have had a sequel, but no reasonable person could have expected them not to make one. At the time Home Alone was the third highest grossing film of all time. A sequel was all but fated. But the inherent unsequelableness of the first film meant that Hughes had to get inspired, which, other than that opening set-up sequence, he clearly was not. Home Alone 2 is a classic case of simply taking all the pieces from the first film and re-purposing them in a new setting, with no one caring enough to realize that they’re now jamming square pegs into round holes. If you don’t care if pieces are fitting properly, as long as they make it inside the box, then Home Alone 2 probably seems no different than the first film. The movie works if you squint and just don’t think about anything that is happening after it happens. It is a decent movie. But for me that is what makes its deep layer of flaws so egregious. It just typifies a lazy sequel.
On just the most basic premise level Home Alone 2 is already off the mark. The first film is a silly “careful what you wish for” Twilight Zone episode, with the added joke of dramatic irony that we know Kevin’s family didn’t actually disappear. So that is kind of cute. The whole movie is driven by the fact that Kevin thinks he is alone in the world. At first it is great, but then he misses his family and wishes them back. Awww. In Home Alone 2, while Kevin’s initial separation is an honest mistake, once he reaches New York City he is fully aware of what is going on. He knows he got on the wrong plane and he knows where his family is. It makes no sense to have a scene where Kevin misses his family and wishes they could get reunited because at any point in the film he has the power to undo this mess. Yet he doesn’t. That is not cute. The Christmas pageant debacle with Buzz, and the family’s subsequent reaction to it (forgiving Buzz but not Kevin), is all the fuel we’re given to justify Kevin putting his family through hell for several days. In a rather cheap move, the filmmakers show us that the McCallisters resort in Florida sucks (it is small and raining all the time), which causes everyone to be happy when they wind up in a sweet hotel in New York at the end. All is forgiven Kevin! Now our Christmas is even better! But that’s bullshit. That’s like the 24 parody episode of South Park where Cartman’s racism inadvertently ends up saving the town and he wants credit for it.
Also stemming from this same problem is the Plaza Hotel storyline, which is really the A-storyline as far as the rules of film structure go — the Wet Bandits don’t even hatch their scheme to rob Mr. Duncan’s toy shop until around the 45-minute mark. In Home Alone Kevin outsmarting the adult antagonists was fun because they were bad people, criminals. In this movie, what is Mr. Hector’s villainous trait? He suspects that Kevin might be staying in the hotel alone and using a stolen credit card. But… that’s exactly what Kevin IS doing! This poor bastard is just trying to do his job, yet at every turn his suspicions of Kevin are framed as unlikable — the film even goes so far as dissolving between a shot of the Grinch from the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Mr. Hector smiling. Sure, this is par for the course for many comedies (I complained about a similar thing in Police Academy), but it is especially bizarre how this applies to Cedric, Rob Schneider’s bellhop character. Mr. Hector instructs Cedric to keep an eye on Kevin, which immediately puts Cedric into the antagonist boat too, even though, obviously, he is just doing his job following orders from a superior who himself is just doing his job. When Cedric brings Kevin’s bags up to the room, Cedric gestures for a tip. Kevin, with good intentions, gives Cedric a piece of gum. Great bit. Kevin is a little kid, and he thought he was being generous. But wait, this becomes a running gag in the film, and in the second beat when Kevin goes to tip Cedric again, Cedric stops Kevin short, noting that he already has some gum. Then Kevin pulls out a huge wad of cash and dickishly says “Okay” and shuts the door in Cedric’s face as Cedric is about to correct the situation. So let me get this straight… Kevin did understand that Cedric wanted money the first time? But gave him gum anyway? Why? What had Cedric done? What a little asshole. They’ve taken the square peg of “Kevin vs Grown Ups” but forgotten that they need to put it into a square hole of “Grown Ups Who Deserve It.”
Cedric brings me to another square peg in a round hole aspect…
As I mentioned last time, it was interesting that Home Alone was about a family with a lot of money. It was entirely necessitated by the plot, so there was little reason to think much about it. And more importantly, the details of the story – Kevin taking care of himself, Kate worrying about her son – were universal and completely irrelevant to the McCallisters’ bank account. Being home alone is a fantasy/nightmare for any kid. But the core concept of Home Alone 2 doesn’t fit as snugly into this reality. Yeah, your average kid undoubtedly thinks it would be bitchin’ to stay in fancy hotel room in a fancy hotel, but your average kid’s dad probably earns $40,000 a year. Your average kid’s dad can’t pay for over a dozen plane tickets and over a dozen resort reservations in Florida. Home Alone 2 feels less genuine in its fantasy for Kevin, and worse, less deserved. The Florida resort turns out to be awful, but unexpectedly so. Kevin didn’t know this. He just selfishly wanted to be somewhere with pine trees, so he upgraded from what was ostensibly going to be luxury in Florida for slightly more luxurious luxury in New York. If Home Alone 2 had been an original concept, I can guarantee you Kevin would not have come from a wealthy family; it lessens the interest factor of him suddenly being surrounded by opulence. This by itself isn’t a huge problem (more just something to chew on), but I think it is part of the basic problem with painting the “snotty” hotel staff as inherently unlikable — I say inherent because none of the Plaza employees are ever shown doing or saying anything mean or even morally uncool. We’re just supposed to root against them from the onset.
The entire running gag with Cedric is playing off the average American’s latent umbrage with fancy things and those who represent them — it is an age-old bit to paint bellhops as unlikable, rubbing their smarmy fingertips together in the universal sign for “tip me.” Let’s just ignore the Joe Sixpack ignorance here and pretend that, sure, bellhops and their tip-grubbing are worthy of our collective mild disdain. But this feels like a cheat when it involves Kevin and the rest of the McCallisters. They may not be old-money social elites, but they aren’t Joe Sixpacks. I don’t believe for a second that when Peter McCallister travels he stays in a Motel 6. Hughes either needed to have made the hotel staff actually reprehensible in some way, or tweaked how their bits worked. Personally I think it would have been much funnier if Kevin had continued to think he was a baller, tipping Cedric in cute little kid ways, giving him candy or a “valuable” cheat code for some Nintendo game. “Keep the good service coming, there are plenty more cheat codes where that came from.”
Not to keep harping on this money issue, but it also colors aspects of the Mr. Duncan and Bird Lady subplots too. One of Kevin’s big moments of humanity is when he gives over $20 of his “own” money to Mr. Ducan’s charity. It is a sweet moment. Sort of. Kevin is already committing credit fraud at the hotel, and at the end of the movie we learn that he has spent over $900 on room service at the Plaza. Maybe he should have given Mr. Duncan a bit more, since has he zero qualms about spending his father’s (presumably) hard earned money. Maybe instead of stuffing your face with ice cream, Kev, you could have bought $900 of toys to donate? It is also a very surface level sweet moment. Kevin doesn’t need that money for anything. Compare this moment of charity with a moment from another popular family film from 1992, Aladdin. Aladdin is a thief, and his introduction is a scene evading arrest after stealing some food (not totally unlike Kevin’s battles with the hotel staff). Once safe with his stolen food, Aladdin sees two young orphans and graciously gives them the food even though he’s starving too. Great hero moment. I’m not saying, “Oh, Kevin’s parents have money so fuck him, his charity doesn’t count.” But Kevin was a great hero in the first film. Now, in this new context, he isn’t.
Then there is the Bird Lady subplot, which is a totally pointless rehash of the Old Man Marley subplot from the first film. Brenda Fricker gives a warm performance, and the scene they share together in Carnegie Hall is nice. But at the end of the film, while the McCallisters are celebrating Xmas in grotesque splendor in a huge suite (that they don’t have to pay for) with literal piles of presents given to them by Mr. Duncan (which they didn’t have to pay for), Kevin seeks out the Bird Lady and gives her one half of a turtle doves ornament Mr. Duncan gave him earlier in the film. Aww. Now they can remember each other. This is where the movie ends. I would have liked to see the moment right after this when Kevin says, “Okay. Bye. Have a nice morning standing outside in the freezing cold cause you are homeless and STILL homeless, I’m going back to the huge warm hotel suite my family is staying in. Merry Christmas!” Jesus Christ, invite her to hang out with your family you little fuck! Give her food! A new coat! Something! She’s homeless! She could actually die later today from exposure! Old Man Marley was sad cause he lost touch with his son and granddaughter. Then he gets his family back because of Kevin. What is Bird Lady sad about? She has no children, the man she loved fell out of love with her, she has no friends, and she is homeless. Now because of Kevin she has made a new friend… a small child who she will likely never see or talk to again. Yay?
So much from the first film is just thrown into this film that it is actually kind of conspicuous that John Candy’s character didn’t reappear somewhere. But as far as tossed in pointlessness goes, nothing tops the clumsiness of the Wet Bandits (now the Sticky Bandits, I guess). Harry and Marv feel so tacked on, almost an afterthought. They should either have been part of the A-storyline, in some way wrapped up with the Plaza Hotel (maybe they’re pretending to be employees?), or they just shouldn’t have been in the film at all. They most certainly should have been after Kevin from an earlier point in the film; Kevin’s involvement with the Bandits is supremely forced as it is. Kevin’s decision to defend Mr. Duncan’s toy shop may be courageous, but it also could have been more efficiently solved by simply tipping off the police. It seems like Kevin’s real motive isn’t to get them arrested but to lure them into his sadistic traps once more. Ugh. And the traps this time around. The ultra-slapstick in the first film was wildly popular and became the most identified surprise in the film, so I don’t think we can blame the filmmakers for carrying on too much with the slapstick here, but man, Hughes and Columbus really go off the rails. I had issues with one moment in the first film when Kevin set a trap for Marv that he had no way of knowing Marv would accurately walk into, but that is almost every trap this time around.
Columbus goes headlong into Looney Tunes territory this time. I mean, Marv turns into a skeleton while he’s being electrocuted (seen below). I get it. But it also feels like no one is trying. That I don’t get. The traps aren’t clever, and even in cartoon logic they make no sense. When Marv pulls on a doorknob, it pops off, revealing itself to be attached to a string. He then pulls and pulls and pulls the string, until it is taught. We see that there is a staple gun on the other side of the door aimed through a keyhole. Marv keeps pulling, twisting himself up in the string and ending up with his ass pressed against the door, until he finally shoots himself with a staple. I can handle a character not looking around when entering a room and falling into a hole, but shit like that staple gun bit is just toostupid. And unclever. There is no semblance of reality to the movie anymore. Harry and Marv no longer behave like humans. Joe Pesci is endlessly muttering in a kind of unintelligible scatting-swearing, which is not funny and painfully odd considering this is a character quirk added for the sequel. What you think of the violence itself will fall to personal preference, but it has been escalated from the first film to the point where Harry and Marv would likely have died from almost every single one of Kevin’s traps. I don’t mind the break from reality so much, but I do mind how tedious the overkill of every single stunt is. It is just monotonous. What lasted ten minutes in the first film now spans twenty minutes, and the “payoff” of the Bird Lady turning her pigeons on the Wet Bandits is a pretty lame way to end such a long sequence. The whole thing is somewhat disjointed too by taking place in a location (a brownstone that is under construction) that had no presence previously in the film. It seems like the climax should have been in either the toy shop or in the hotel, so we would be reusing areas we were already familiar with. We’re really seeing the inside of the brownstone for the first time when the Bandits do.
Home Alone Falls: 7
Moments Where A Villain Would Have Seriously Died: There are so many to choose from. But I think I’ll give it to the scene where Harry’s head is once again lit on fire. He tries to put it out by sticking his flaming head into a toilet, which turns out to be filled with kerosine or gasoline or something and there is a huge explosion. And he’s barely singed afterwords.
Injury That Is More Horrifying Than Funny: When Marv gets hit in the face with not one, not two, not three, but four bricks thrown from the top of a building, which surely would’ve left his face an Irreversible mess. Actually, I lied. This bit went on so long that I finally laughed by the fourth brick.
Most Preposterous Ruse: When Kevin fools Mr. Hector (who has bizarrely decided to sneak into Kevin’s bathroom when he hears a recording of Uncle Frank showering; ???) with an inflatable clown placed behind a shower curtain. It’s not even shaped like a person! It has a giant, smooth spherical head and no fingers!
Best Kid Acting Like an Adult Moment: After a hotel waiter asks if Kevin would like two scoops of ice cream. “Two; make it three. I’m not driving.”
Should There Be a Sequel: Well now they have to make more. I want them to reach Home Alone 4, which according to Movie Franchise Law means Kevin has to get launched into space.
Up Next: Home Alone 3
DISCUSS THE FRANCHISE ON THE BOARDS
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