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Disney+ Review: Home Sweet Home Alone

November 11, 2021

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

The inevitable downside of the Disney-Fox merger was always going to be that the Mouse House would take advantage of having even more beloved franchises in their roster to capitalize on with remakes, reboots and retreads, all the “re’s” that studios turn to in order to make a quick buck off of existing intellectual property.

Such is the case with Home Sweet Home Alone, the sixth (!) instalment in the holiday series that is only really remembered for its first two films, and has no reason to be continuing thirty years later. Directed by Dan Mazer, with a screenplay credited to SNL alums Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell, this Disney+ Original is a quasi-sequel to the classic 1990 and 1992 films that plays out more like a misguided attempt at a reboot.

Now, to be fair, this is not the worst film or biggest cash-grab in the Home Alone series. That honour still goes to the awful 2002 made-for-TV sequel Home Alone 4, a cringe-inducing effort that made the unforgivable sin of trying to be a direct followup to the first two with a new cast of actors (none of whom fit the roles). In terms of quality, it also improves upon the cheaply made Home Alone: The Holiday Heist from 2012 (which I literally forgot was even a thing until a few days ago). But to say that Home Sweet Home Alone is marginally better than a pair of throwaway TV movies is hardly a compliment.

Mazer’s film has enough nods to the first two films to make it canon, with a variety of obligatory Easter Eggs and other callbacks (including Devin Ratray reprising his role as Kevin’s older brother Buzz who is now a cop), but basically none of the heart or charm of the original Home Alone and its New York-set sequel. What we get instead is a cheap-looking film that simultaneously feels like it was made by people who love the first one to the degree that they want to copy it, but also somehow think they can make it better by having the villains be more sympathetic. Which, they can’t.

Archie Yates stars as Max Mercer, a stand-in for Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister, who is accidentally left home alone when his family goes to Japan for the holidays, and must defend his home from a pair of bumbling would-be robbers trying to break in. It’s basically the same premise as the first film, except the difference this time around is that the robbers aren’t really robbers, and are instead a cash-strapped married couple, Jeff (Rob Delaney) and Pam (Ellie Kemper), trying to recover a family heirloom stolen by spoiled rich kid Max.

You see, Jeff and Pam are in financial dire straits and have been left with no option but to put their home on the market right before Christmas, a fact that they are trying to keep from their own kids (Katie Beth Hall and Max Ivutin). Their last hope lies in selling a rare, antique doll with an upside down head that is worth thousands of dollars. When Jeff discovers the doll is missing after Max visits their open house to use the bathroom, they go to the Mercer home to break in and retrieve it, assuming the whole family is on vacation. What follows all stems from a series of strained misunderstandings.

The forgotten Max overhears the couple talking about their plans to sell the “ugly boy” and mistakes them for child traffickers (which is somehow presented as “comedy”), so he sets a variety of traps to ensnare them. Yes, Home Sweet Home Alone does sort of try to put a new spin on the original film through this reversal of roles, and I suppose it deserves some minor credit for that. But this setup is so convoluted, and the new story that the film tries to tell is so badly structured and poorly thought out, that it almost feels like more of an insult.

The issue is that, by trying to turn the “robbers” into sympathetic characters, it doesn’t exactly make it satisfying to watch our little “hero” mercilessly torturing them through various booby traps. This could have been a clever subversion of the original, but the screenplay is incapable of fully grappling with its switch up of the hero and villain roles, wanting us to either cheer for a rich kid torturing a working class couple or grown adults tormenting a literal child by repeatedly attempting to break into his house.

If you go back and watch the 1990 original (or the supremely entertaining 1992 sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), it’s actually a minor miracle how well it works, which is no small part thanks to its John Hughes screenplay. Yes, everybody remembers the slapstick, but it does such a good job of setting up the characters beforehand that we are fully invested in the story by the time it arrives. The same can not be said of Home Sweet Home Alone, which suffers badly from poor pacing, an inconsistent tone, and underwritten characters.

The film vaguely copies the beats of the original, but it doesn’t lay the necessary groundwork to make us care about the characters, and as a result the emotional payoffs here don’t feel earned. Jeff and Pam are too one-note to garner much genuine sympathy, and the constant mugging of Delaney and Kemper ends up feeling forced. They are no Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci. Furthermore, Max simply isn’t a very likeable protagonist. He comes across as extremely entitled and at times shows a shocking lack of empathy for those around him (he even goes to steal from a church toy drive at one point), making it hard for him to be fully redeemed in the overly sappy final scenes.

The film sets up a whole extended family for Max (including a pallid copy of the classic sequence showing the various relatives running around the house before the big vacation), only to completely forget about most of them by around the halfway point. Aisling Bea has the thankless task of taking over Catherine O’Hara’s role as the mother, and the screenplay does her no favours. O’Hara’s character had a genuine arc that remains one of the best things about the original, which the writers fail to replicate here. We get a version of the famous airport scene, but like so much else in this film, it feels like little more than a failed attempt at recapturing what worked the first time around.

The tagline for Home Sweet Home Alone is “holiday classics were meant to be broken,” and in its worst moments, including a misguided version of the tender church scene from the first one, the film feels like it is actively working to undermine its predecessor. Instead of bittersweet emotion, the sequence here is played for cheap laughs, even borrowing the backdrop of a choir singing “Oh Holy Night” and using it to ironically overscore an embarrassing bit of cringey slapstick and fart humour. It feels sacrilegious, like a slap in the face to one of the most bittersweet moments from the original.

The film attempts to cash in on nostalgia, but can’t even get that right. At one point, when watching a sci-fi reboot of the fake gangster movie from the first film, a character moans about it being “garbage” and questions why they are always trying to remake the classics when they are “never as good as the originals.” It’s a rare moment of truth in this sloppy attempt at rebooting a genuine holiday classic.

Home Sweet Home Alone is streaming exclusively on Disney+ as of November 12th.

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