Around a third of the way into Home Sweet Home Alone – the latest reboot of the long-running festive film franchise – a character watching television utters the line, “I don’t know why they’re always trying to remake the classics, they’re never as good as the originals.”
Clearly, this is intended to serve as a piece of self-aware humour, a wry reminder to those querying the point of the new film that the scriptwriters are in on the joke too, that they know this is a pale imitation of the beloved holiday favourite. The problem is, the question posed by this self-referential gag is never really adequately answered, and once the credits have rolled you’re left wondering the same thing. Why exactly have they decided to remake the film?
It will come as no surprise that several of the hallmarks of the original Home Alone – released more than 30 years ago now – are present in the new version. There’s a rich, spoilt kid accidentally left behind in an opulent mansion by his absent-minded family. There’s a couple of incompetent would-be thieves desperate to get into that house whatever the cost. And of course, there’s all manner of intricately planned out booby traps, leading to a handful of slapstick scenes and unimaginable pain for the hapless villains.
Much of the joy of the original film is derived from the relative simplicity of that premise – here are two dastardly baddies getting their comeuppance at the hands of a spoilt but ultimately likeable kid. And this is where the new film differs: the first half of Home Sweet Home Alone is dedicated to setting up a needlessly convoluted plot that on the one hand makes it almost impossible to root for the young kid, and on the other is just plain boring to sit through.
The two scoundrels played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in the 1990 film are replaced here by a down on their luck couple – Jeff, an unemployed ‘data migration officer’ played by Rob Delaney, and his wife Pam, played by Ellie Kemper. When we meet Jeff and Pam, they are deeply worried that they may need to sell their house due to a lack of funds – but this difficulty seems to resolve itself when Jeff discovers an old-fashioned doll that once belonged to his mother could be worth as much as $200,000.
Only, it turns out that a young child, Max (Archie Yates) has stolen the doll while he was attending an open house at Jeff and Pam’s property with his mother. The only course of action, naturally, is for the couple to break into the youngster’s house and steal the doll back – just a misdemeanour, and not a felony, Jeff explains. And of course, when they do so, Max is completely alone – with his family having travelled to Japan for the festive period without realising they’d left him behind – leaving him free to draw up his complex and exceedingly violent battle plan.
The confused nature of that set-up would be forgivable if the film was able to deliver some laughs along the way, but much of the dialogue throughout the runtime is awkward and stilted, with Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell’s dismally unfunny script barely raising a single chuckle. There are excruciating running jokes about speaking German, naff one-liners from Max and several slapstick scenes completely devoid of charm, before a frankly weird ending that feels totally unearned.
It’s a shame because the cast is made up of talented and largely likeable comic performers like Delaney and Kemper, but even their best efforts can’t bring about much in the way of genuine hilarity here. Aisling Bea as Max’s stressed-out mother is particularly underserved by the script – not helped by the fact that for reasons not immediately obvious she’s been asked to speak in a posh English accent. And while it would be mean-spirited to be too critical of child star Yates – who gives it his best go in the lead role – he’s certainly no Macaulay Culkin, whose natural charisma in the first film was a large part of its success.
Anyway, it all comes back to the question of why the film was made in the first place. It’s certainly not for kids, who I can’t imagine enjoying much about this – certainly not the jokes about things like data migration or OJ Simpson. No, it’s pretty clear that the target audience for this is adults who retain a nostalgic fondness for the original Home Alone – which explains why there are several clumsy references to the film throughout, including a cameo from Devin Ratray as Buzz McCallister. But regrettably, I imagine even the most hardcore fans of that film will struggle to find much to enjoy in this turkey.