Diamonds in the Rough (DitR, /dɪ’tər/) takes some of the most derided, divisive, controversial, financially catastrophic, and meme-worthy movies and tries to find the silver lining. Bad movies don’t always start as bad ideas, and flops aren’t always flop-worthy. DitR seeks to find the good within the bad, because the world could use some positivity. And when all else fails, making fun of bad movies is oh-so satisfying.
In this installment, we are looking at the final two sequels in the Home Alone series of films: Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House and Home Alone 5: The Holiday Heist. Home Alone 4 was a made-for-television film. It served as the November 3, 2002 premiere for the 47th season of Walt Disney’s anthology television film series, then titled The Wonderful World of Disney. Home Alone 5 functioned as a part of ABC Family’s Countdown to the 25 Days of Christmas programming block.
[Caution: Minor Spoilers Ahead, mostly involving Home Alone 5. But let’s be honest, there’s no need to be watching these movies]
Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House
- IMDb: 2.6/10 (31,990 ratings)
- Letterboxd: 1.2/5 (7,766 ratings)
- Nielsen Rating: 7 | Share: 11 | Viewers: 12.5 (m)
In Diamonds in the Rough, we try to look for the good within the bad, or the misunderstood within the dismissed. Given how critical my writing can be elsewhere on this site, here I try to remain positive. Unfortunately, that can’t be done today. The cynicism cannot be helped. Today, I am leaning more heavily on that last sentence of the series summary. When all else fails, making fun of bad movies is…well, I wouldn’t say satisfying in this case. This is the bottom of the family film barrel that we are scraping here today. There are very few diamonds in this rough. We will get to what little there is to mine in the way of quality. But this is mostly just rocks.
Unlike Home Alone 3, which switches narrative focus to an entirely different family, Home Alone 4 returns to the McCallister family. Only, this doesn’t resemble the McCallister family of the first two films by any stretch of the imagination. Kevin McCallister (Mike Weinberg) and his two siblings, Buzz (Gideon Jacobs) and Megan (Chelsea Russo), read much younger than they do in the first two films. However, this is no prequel, as the premise involves Kevin’s parents (Clare Carey and Jason Beghe) being divorced and one of the two “Wet Bandits” of the original film, Marv (here played by French Stewart) having renounced his life of burglary in favor of one of kidnapping.
On the flip side, this is not a sequel that moves logically from 1992 (the setting of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) to 2002. Kevin McCalister would be 19 in this case. In fact, Kevin is nine years old in this film. This is the same age he is in the second film. So two Christmases are happening in one year in this universe, I suppose. And I suppose you could ret-con Home Alone 2 to take place in the 2000s, not that that would make much sense. Of course, you cannot assume Home Alone 4 takes place in 1993 (and Kevin skipped a birthday; maybe he was born on Leap Day), because there is tech in this film that is fairly advanced even for 2002. The best we can do is suspend disbelief and understand this universe as existing in a temporal vacuum in which people do not age.
In this film, petty criminals Marv and Vera (Missi Pyle) have concocted a hair-brained scheme involving the kidnapping of a royal child, who just so happens to be en route to visit Kevin’s new stepmother (Joanna Going) at her ornate, high class estate. Unlucky for them, Kevin is visiting for Christmas.
“Buzz is the trouble-maker. I’m the adorable one.” These are words from Kevin’s mouth, in an attempt to come off as precocious. More accurately, they are the words of Debra Frank and Steve L. Hayes, two television writers attempting a bit of shorthand to remind us of the characters we know and love from undeniably better films. In fact, Kevin is not so much adorable as he is grating, and as much as Weinberg is serviceable in the role (considering his age), his demeanor is rather charmless. Weinberg does a good of job of coming across like a child, as opposed to the overly precocious, resourceful Kevin of earlier films. However, a Home Alone film does necessitate a certain level of maturity and industriousness in its lead. This Kevin does not rise to that occasion, and he is not as indelible as Culkin’s Kevin is at his best.
Home Alone 4 attempts, desperately, to replicate the magic of Culkin in Home Alone, giving Weinberg a montage of dancing, lip syncing, and playing in his new stepmother’s mansion-like home. It just doesn’t translate. The fun and games in this don’t read as fun; they read as staged. The freedom that the character is meant to be experiencing is suffocated by the weight of artifice, as the filmmaking and performances do not hold up to scrutiny.
The biggest frustration for me is that Weinberg is playing Kevin when Gideon Jacobs is right there waiting for his time to shine. Buzz, who should be played by an older teenage actor anyway, is not right for Jacobs. Jacobs, meanwhile, has the kind of presence that producers dream of in their child actors. Just a year earlier, Jacobs played a camper in Wet Hot American Summer. Performing as a child wise beyond his years who consoles Molly Shannon’s counselor character, Jacobs does an astounding job. He plays off of comedy veterans with aplomb! He could easily have pulled off a Kevin McCallister type in this film. It is such a missed opportunity. Honestly, I wonder if Jacobs turned the Kevin role down, shrewd that he is (the boy decided early on to quit acting at the age of 18 to pursue an education).
But speaking of charmless, the two main villains of the film are utterly devoid of charm. Marv and Vera are cartoon characters portraying cartoon characters. Stewart is playing an established character in this universe, but he is also attempting to give it his own spin. I guess that this is better, in theory, than merely miming Daniel Stern. But it just comes off like a manic and erratic performance of a nonsensical character.
As for the film’s hi-jinks, which are the defining and notable elements of the franchise, it is a largely laughable array of unimaginative gags accompanied by awful reaction shots. Also, unlike the original film, in which Kevin has the foresight and resourcefulness to lure in or otherwise anticipate his pursuers’ movements, the Kevin in this film appears to simply set a series of traps which randomly happen to spring at the correct time. Not to mention a trap like the revolving bar, which defies the logic of what would be programmed into a luxury home appliance (i.e. why would the appliance have a “revolving” function with a voice command high speed setting?).
The climax of the film is entirely unsatisfactory. Where certain aspects of the film’s set up and character development are adequate, the zany slapstick sequence is both too short for a film in this franchise and too insufferably long for comfort.
On the whole, Home Alone 4 is not the most egregious example of a low-quality, made-for-TV franchise sequel. It is competently made and has its moments of understated class (the little anecdote the separated parents share, reminiscing happily as the camera pulls in on their faces, is a fairly well-composed moment). As an entrant in The Wonderful World of Disney programming slot, it is pretty decent. That said, it is a fairly hollow exercise in franchise re-hash that swims in the wake of its namesake’s prior success.
Home Alone 5: The Holiday Heist
- IMDb: 3.5/10 (7,454 ratings)
- Letterboxd: 1.4/5 (1,900 ratings)
- Nielsen Weekly Cable Ranking: #25
Home Alone 5 takes the Home Alone 3 approach, switching to a new family. The Baxter family are moving into their new home in Maine, which just so happens to be the next target for an elite heist outfit who are in search for a long lost Edvard Munch painting (if you don’t get the reference/connection with The Scream, the screenwriters make a big deal of it at the end of the film).
The bottom line of Home Alone 5 is: this ain’t your daddy’s Home Alone! This Home Alone has evolved into the modern age! Disaffected children are obsessed with technology—video games, cell phones, the internets! “They’re earbuds, not headphones” for chrissakes!
This is the characterizations we get of this family. The parent’s are sad and desperate to connect with their children, Finn (Christian Martyn) and Alexis (Jodelle Ferland), who are singularly obsessed with video games and social media, respectively.
Home Alone 5 is by far the blandest entry in the franchise. The narrative is caught up in ill-defined, trite familial strife. The script and jaunty score play this strife up as if it is whimsical and charming, but it is merely unexciting. And the “home alone” hi-jinks are similarly uneventful. The first montage in this vein is a limp recreation of the one from the first film, where Kevin exercises all of the freedoms he can now that he is alone, set to the tune of awkward yuletide dad rock. Later, Finn will also replicate the grocery store clerk exchange from the first film with none of the charm (also, immediately following this Finn is in the street wishing people “Merry Christmas,” but the shot shows that no one is anywhere near him, making it look like he is simply an insane person).
As for the setup and execution of the climactic thwarting of the baddies, there is again plenty of cribbing from earlier films. There is some finesse to the trap setup montage, where we see multiple Finns moving throughout the kitchen preparing a trap over time. Overall, though, there is nothing clever to the self-referential nods and uninteresting slapstick. If anything, aspects of the slapstick are down-right creepy, such as when Finn uses a slingshot to repeatedly strike the female thief’s butt with pellets, making her think that her boss is spanking her while she is trapped in a window. It is an unsettling scenario that plays out for far too long.
This isn’t the only off-color aspect of the film. There is then the impromptu friendship forged between Finn and an adult online gamer. They become fast friends, and when the man realizes this 10 year old is in danger he calls Finn’s mother. The joke here is that (Oh, this is going to be good!) Finn’s mother believes this man is a pervert who kidnapped her children and has her daughter locked in his basement (hilARious, I know!). Later, a SWAT team arrives at this man’s apartment, holds him at gunpoint, and, when they think he is wielding a gun, pepper spray him in his face. It is, for a variety of reasons, a tonally uneasy pair of scenes.
Structurally, this climax is a mess. It moves unmotivated from gag to gag, gormless and formless. It is dull and meandering and largely forgettable. I watched the film less than an hour before starting to write this, and I am already forgetting large swathes of it.
In the end, the film provides a message (which, frankly, none of the other film’s attempted this in any genuine way beyond, I don’t know, telling children to appreciate the presence of family). After this whole ordeal, what the two children of this family learn (by pure coincidence and not at all directly related to the actual events of the heist) is that you should go outside instead of playing video games and read a book instead of going online. It is the most blanket-statement, superficial reading of modern day children, and it lands with a dull thud. It is such a myopic and unoriginal ending moral, putting the ugly bow on the unsatisfying Christmas present that is this film. Home Alone 5 is like opening a gift wrapped in newspaper containing the present of socks, and inside one of those socks is the added delight of a library card.
To wrap it all up, the end credits feature—no, not bloopers, not outtakes, not deleted or extra scenes—clips from the movie you just saw! That’s right! If you couldn’t run away from the climax of this film fast enough, they have placed the same lifeless gags in a second time (maybe to pad out the runtime, but honestly at that point why bother about runtime? You could just make the credits run at half speed. I mean, this is a TV movie, right? Wouldn’t ABC just do that thing where the credits go picture-in-picture to maximize advertising space?).
I didn’t even find reason to mention it before, but Malcolm McDowell is also in this movie as the leader of this heist. His backstory is a wildly convoluted yet almost entirely unexplained tale that somehow connects his lineage to Edvard Munch’s. I would say it is a shock to see McDowell stoop to these depths (he certainly is better than this material), but he kind of does any role for a paycheck these days.
Home Alone 5 is a fairly terrible film, all things considered. Even for someone who doesn’t have nostalgia for the original Home Alone, this fifth entry taints whatever good will the series had. Even Home Alone 4 has enough pathos in its family dynamics to get one through the meager runtime relatively unscathed (even if that pathos is itself overly telegraphed and sappy). Home Alone 5 has essentially no pathos. It is a half-hearted attempt at replicating a name brand property that ends in a condescending lecture.
I don’t know who this movie is for. Certainly, children in 2012 don’t have fondness for the Home Alone films of the 1990s, and this does not have a leg to stand on without that name. For those who did grow up with Home Alone, this is likely to be a slap in the face, as the film either blatantly cribs elements of the original film or self-reflexively replicates elements of it as a means of mocking it (e.g. the ice on the door step and the iconic aftershave scream). In either case, no one really wants a Home Alone 5 in 2012, especially after no one cared for the Home Alone 4 in 2002 or the Home Alone 3 in 1997. Home Alone was lightning in a bottle, and it is a product of its time. These sequels, by and large, just don’t understand that. Or, they don’t care, knowing that dumping these sequels on TV with the Home Alone name on it means decent enough ratings.
To put this back to the arbitrary format that I have designed for this arbitrary series of articles that literally nobody asked for: Are Home Alone 4 and Home Alone 5 cinematic travesties? I’m glad you asked! The answer is in the usual gray area—yes and no. Home Alone 5 is very hard to sit through, and I would not recommend it to anybody. Home Alone 4 is equally dull, but there is something wholesome and innocently fun there, so that a kid could sit through it and be reasonably satisfied. Maybe. I wouldn’t sit a kid down to it, though. I’m not cruel.
But if anything, these films are travesties of nostalgia culture. Given that these films came out just before nostalgia culture really boiled up into a whole abstract mass of ravenous and volatile internet goop, they fly under the radar to a certain extent. I’m not here to rile up a Home Alone fanbase to pile on hate to these movies. However, with a new Home Alone reboot in pre-production at Disney, perhaps now is as good a time as any to throw the label out there. Cultural products don’t really “ruin my childhood,” so to speak. Properties that held sentimental value to me when I was younger remain sentimental only to the extent that I remember enjoying them at the time. But I would go out on a limb and say that these films would certainly be in the camp of childhood ruining if viewed with certain eyes.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)