We gave it a B-
Does it really matter that Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is, in essence, the same movie as its megasmash predecessor? A product of the John Hughes youth-comedy factory, Home Alone had a plot so basic it was almost primal: Kid gets left behind by family in womblike suburban fortress; fortress is besieged by cartoon meanies; kid defeats meanies with a series of tricks so violent, painful, and all-around dastardly that they’re…great fun. Now that’s family entertainment!
The original movie was studded with commercial hooks. Macaulay Culkin, with his soft eyes and adorable, cat-ate-the-canary smile, was the perfect fantasy Everykid: cute, fearless, and great at ouwitting adults — Dennis the Menace with a halo instead of a cowlick (Hughes, in fact, is now planning a movie based on Dennis). The notion of stranding this puppy-dog tyke in his serenely comfy, gadget-stocked, bourgeois colonial palace proved irresistible. After all, is there a former child out there who didn’t take over his own house when left alone for the afternoon? (I used to gorge on my father’s secret stash of Three Musketeers bars.) What’s more, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern made an exquisitely befuddled pair of stupido crooks.
None of this, however, can quite account for Home Alone‘s astonishing domestic gross of $285 million. What sold the movie into the stratosphere was Culkin’s outrageously sadistic antiburglar booby traps — not just the pranks themselves but the way he orchestrated them as a kind of righteous defense maneuver: a young lad defending his castle! Many likened the farcical violence to the stunts in a Road Runner cartoon. Of course, it’s a fundamentally different experience seeing live actors get bashed, burned, and pummeled. The sense of physical pain is far more acute (besides, I don’t recall Wile E. Coyote spending an entire episode nursing a singed head). Nevertheless, the real difference may be this: If Home Alone‘s outrageous mayhem came straight from cartoon land, its attitude was pure top-gun bravado. In its second half, the movie turned into a cheeky, pint-size Rambo, an aggressive slapstick fantasy about a kid who kicks some butt. In retrospect, it was the last true blockbuster of the Reagan-Bush era.
Well, maybe the second to last. In Home Alone 2, Culkin’s Kevin McCallister, a little taller now but still every bit the boyish pixie, heads off with his family to spend Christmas in Miami. At the airport, he wanders onto the wrong plane and winds up in New York City, which is fine with him (who needs his family, anyway?). Part of the cleverness of this sequel is that the filmmakers — Hughes, the writer-producer, and Chris Columbus, who returns as director — realize that Kevin hardly needs to be in his own house to feel safe and protected. He’s such a serenely entitled upper-middle-class kid that he can make himself right at home at the Plaza Hotel, where he gets a suite with his father’s credit card.
At the Plaza, Kevin is surrounded by an amusing collection of headcases, notably Tim Curry as an unctuous concierge and Saturday Night Live‘s Rob Schneider as a dufus bellman who can’t seem to earn a proper tip. In just about every other way, Home Alone 2 duplicates the first film with blueprint savvy. Kevin scarfs ice cream and watches videos. He uses gizmos like a little tape recorder to fool adults into thinking his parents are with him. He gets to know a curmudgeonly oldster (Brenda Fricker, from My Left Foot, as a pigeon-loving bag lady) and melts her heart just in time for the toasty, spirit-of-Christmas finale. Oh, and he lures Harry (Pesci) and Marv (Stern), the notorious Wet Bandits, to his uncle’s abandoned town house and puts them through hell.
Marv gets hit in the face — THWACK! — by four (count ’em) bricks; then he’s stapled in the forehead and electrocuted. Harry, once again, gets his crown singed, and the two are then smashed against a wall by a runaway tool chest. This is followed by more smashing — there’s a lot of smashing — and, finally, the touching climax, in which Harry and Marv, standing on a stairway, get bonked in the head by a big swinging metal…bonker.
Like I said, it’s family entertainment. I saw Home Alone 2 with an audience of children, most of whom ate up the gags like Gummi Bears. If they found this stuff harmless, I tend to think it probably is. For all that, the two Home Alone movies stick in my craw. Today’s kids have more than enough time to discover what a raucous, violent, desensitized place America has become. That they can now get started early, courtesy of John Hughes, isn’t something I can muster a great deal of enthusiasm for. To say that a live-action movie works exactly like a cartoon used to be a criticism, not a compliment. B-