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.
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 4 (2002)
If you had been wondering whatever happened to Kevin McCallister and the rest of the McCallister clan, you’re in luck cause we find out here! Kev (now played by Mike Weinberg) has de-aged, as have his older siblings Buzz and Megan. His two other older siblings, Linnie and Jeff, have winked completely out of existence (I like to think because of a wish Kevin made that he then never un-made). His family seems to have lost a noticeable amount of money, which likely played some part in why his father, Peter (Monkey Shines Jason Beghe), has left Kate (Waxwork‘s Clare Carey) to shack up with a wealthy rich-bitch named Natalie (Phantoms‘ Joanna Going; okay, I’ll stop listing horror credits for everyone). His parents’ separation has left Kevin upset, not because his parents aren’t together anymore so much as because it will fuck up his perfect Xmas. When Buzz pisses Kevin off, Kevin hops in a cab to go stay with Peter and Natalie in their giant sweet mansion, full of sweet technology and a not-so-sweet butler, Mr. Prescott (The Mummy‘s Erick Avari; I was lying, I’m starting again). Coincidentally, Peter and Natalie are going to be playing host to a royal family (huh?) who themselves have a kid Kevin’s age. This has attracted one half of the Wet Bandits, Marv (Stargate‘s French Stewart), and his wife, Vera (dammit! No horror movie credits. So, uh, Galaxy Quest‘s Missi Pyle), who want to kidnap the little prince or whatever he is. But Kevin is going to stop them the only way he knows how… violence.
This movie is not a complete disaster. Jason Beghe and Clare Carey, and their respective subplots, are significantly more interesting than what we got in Home Alone 3 (though that isn’t saying much, admittedly, given that the parents had no subplots). All-purpose Middle Easterner/Indian Erick Avari’s character Mr. Prescott serves a very similar role in Home Alone 4 as Tim Curry’s Mr. Hector did in Home Alone 2, though with more organic purpose. Unlike Hector, Prescott is actively hostile towards Kevin, with no good reason, so Kevin’s return hostility towards him feels earned. Prescott’s unlikability serves a nice double-purpose, as the character is a red herring (Kevin believes him at first to be involved with Marv and Vera), which also makes him the Old Man Marely equivalent in the film — Kevin must learn the truth about Prescott, after which the two team up against the criminals.
Home Alone 2‘s central gizmo was Kevin’s voice recorder/modulator. Home Alone 3‘s was the remote control car. Home Alone 4‘s gizmo is Natalie’s voice-activated house, which is a cute gimmick, at first functioning as pure opulence while Kevin is living it up in luxury, commanding the house to do things, and then playing several parts in Kevin’s traps for Marv and Vera. A solid bit, all around. And just the fact that Home Alone 4 has a “living it up” phase is an improvement on Home Alone 3, which completely did away with that crucial part of the franchise’s fantasy formula.
Once more we’re dealing with wealthy people, but this is the first sequel where Kevin isn’t coming from privilege himself. Kate is by no means low-income, but still squarely middle-class; the house she lives in with the kids is a definite downgrade from the family’s former suburban mansion. When Kevin was “living it up” in the Plaza Hotel in Home Alone 2, it felt like the most minor of upgrades for him. At least this time around Natalie’s house, with its gizmos, serving staff, free food, and huge collection of Xmas presents, is a big leap in luxury for Kev. And more importantly, while Home Alone 2 hypocritically drew a likability line in the sand between having wealth and being ‘fancy,’ Home Alone 4 more naturally fits into the classic “rich people are cold-hearted assholes” routine, as Natalie is slowly proven to be a selfish person and bad step-mom material — driving Peter back into Kate’s arms at the end. This has its own issues, but as far as serving the story, it is a conceptual improvement.
What Doesn’t Work:
What the hell is this movie? Generally speaking, I’m all for sequels correcting a mistake made by a previous installment, righting a ship that had turned off course. Abandoning the McCallisters felt weird in Home Alone 3, but it feels even weirder to return to them in the alternate-reality fashion we have here. Nothing about these McCallisters feels like the Culkin-era McCallisters; the filmmakers didn’t even try to find semi-similar looking actors (Buzz isn’t that much bigger than Kevin here). At first glance Home Alone 4 seems like a reboot, except for the fact that we get oblique references to the previous films, like when Kevin asks to stay home alone, saying “I’ve done it before.” To which Kate responds, “Don’t remind me.” And then Marv shows up (there is also a passing reference to Harry, and for some reason Marv is now wearing Harry’s signature hat). Marv recognizes Kevin and Kevin recognizes Marv. There is continuity here. Yet Kevin was eight in the first film, ten in the second film, and now nine in this film. Are we to believe that this is taking place between Home Alone and Home Alone 2? That might be a cute idea if that made any goddamn sense or was even remotely what this film is going for. If such were the case then it would mean that Marv escaped from prison without Harry, got busted here, and then broke out again immediately with Harry, fleeing to New York; all with a wife that he’s also partners with sometimes. Plus, Peter apparently left the family, forcing Kate to sell two of the children, and move into a smaller house, only for Peter to come back, which apparently allowed Kate to buy back Linnie and Jeff and also reclaim their exact same house. That makes total sense. Needless to say, there is no way Home Alone 4 is happening between the first two films. It is a rebootquel. Which is just stupid for this franchise.
Since they were replacing all the actors, I’m not sure why they specifically left Harry out. Vera is not a fresh or welcome addition, and it makes the film’s attempt to connect us to the Wet Bandits extremely awkward. And as long as we’re on the subject, Jesus Christ is French Stewart terrible in Home Alone 4. Like wow! terrible. The movie would have been better served if they’d hired Jimmy Fallon to do his French Stewart impression as Marv. Stewart was funny on 3rd Rock From the Sun, but his performance here is reason enough to make murdering him as a child worthy of placement on one’s Time Machine To Do List. I just felt bad for Missi Pyle, who is completely anchored down by Stewart’s aggressive squinting and the film’s inane schtick for the duo.
It is usually a bad sign when a franchise leaves the big screen for straight-to-video-land. Well, Home Alone 4 blasted right past that bus stop and straight to made-for-tv-land (it aired on ABC). For the most part it doesn’t show as much as you might think, at least not following the boringly small feeling Home Alone 3. Natalie’s house does indeed feel monstrous, based on the parts we see, and Kevin’s traps remain elaborate and destructive. Unfortunately, where the TV budget does show is in the number of traps we ultimately get — not very many. And at just a hair past 80 minutes in the run-time the movie has one of those “oh, its over now?” climaxes, having failed to build up to anything monumental. Another reality of the TV-movie aesthetic is Mike Weinberg as Kevin. I feel bad insulting a child actor, so I won’t, but Weinberg does not feel like the kind of kid actor you’d see leading the charge on a theatrical movie. He certainly isn’t bad, but the success of this movie unfortunately rests on his little shoulders. Working against him is the fact that the movie is positioning itself as a sequel, meaning it just assumes we’re already going to have a connection with Kevin because he’s Kevin McCallister. But they switched actors on us (among other things) so emotionally we are all starting from scratch with Weinberg. And the magic simply isn’t there.
This is such a nothing movie there really isn’t even much to say about it, as its shittiness comes more from its stratum in the cinema terra firma than from script or performance flaws. This would have made a suitable Disney Sunday movie back in the day, but considering that we’re only two installments away from Home Alone 2, I’m hard pressed to think of another franchise that fell so quickly and so hard. Nothing feels right about Home Alone 4 within the franchise. Though the filmmakers have tossed back in a few of the franchise formula pieces that Hughes had left out in Home Alone 3, they just get muddled by the thorny nature of the reboot/alternate-reality qualities. And the fact that the film ends with Kate and Peter getting back together is pretty shitty for a kids movie, given how completely unnatural it feels. It makes Kate come off like an emotional weakling, as Peter’s ‘loving’ I’ve-learned-something-today speech at the end is essentially, “Hey look, I wanted a hotter more exciting wife, but she turned out to be a bitch, so I’m ready to go back to what I had; can I immediately move back in?” And she’s happy to have him. That’s a great lesson for all the children with divorced parents out there. Way to treat a painful subject with zero plausibility guys.
Home Alone Falls: 4
Moments Where A Villain Would Have Seriously Died: There would surely have been some broken bones, but none of the traps would have actually killed Vera or Marv. Just maimed.
Injury That Is More Horrifying Than Funny: Nothing here either. No fires. No electrocution.
Most Preposterous Ruse: No ruses to be found.
Best Kid Acting Like an Adult Moment: Kevin isn’t like that anymore. He acts like a kid.
Should There Be a Sequel: There is no coming back from Made-For-TV movie. It is either theatrical reboot time, or we have some Home Alone smart-phone-exclusive mobisodes to look forward to.
Up Next: Let’s hear some ideas. It’s still Xmas time, so part of me wants to do the five Silent Night, Deadly Night films, but I also recognize that the comical obscurity of that franchise may not hold a ton of wide-spread appeal. But after The Muppets and Kevin McCallister, I’m certainly ready for some adult material.