So you had a huge hit with Home Alone and now it’s time for the sequel. You know you can’t mess with the concept too much, but you don’t want to make a mere fax, either. What do you do? If you’re writer-producer John Hughes, you mix your winning recipe with another surefire formula: the old fish-out-of-water-and-in-New York routine. After all, it has been working for decades. In fact, the video-store shelves are full of films about colorful characters who’ve culture-clashed with Manhattan. More often than not, the intention has been comic novelty. Yet even the slickest entertainments have usually contained at least a few pointed insights about life in America’s archetypal big city — or at least Hollywood’s attitute toward it.
Back in the ’40s, movie tourists encountered a glittery, glamorous — and, even then, unrealistic — Manhattan straight out of New Yorker cartoons. In Tarzan’s New York Adventure, for instance, Johnny Weissmuller vaulted over skyscraper rooftops and high-dived off the Brooklyn Bridge. And the first musical to be shot on actual New York locations, On the Town, had Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin singing and dancing all over that helluva town, including in the American Museum of Natural History.
By the ’60s, however, the city was harsher, grittier. So were movie stars like Clint Eastwood, who slugs the city into submission in Coogan’s Bluff). Eastwood’s Coogan is a rowdy Arizona deputy who arrives on official business, still wearing his boots and ) cowboy hat. He’s no Ape Man, but he’s clearly out of his element in Gotham, where the locals tend to call him ”Tex.” Pretty soon, though, he’s got the lay of the land, tracking an escaped prisoner all the way to the Cloisters — a spooky old museum that even many New Yorkers don’t know how to find.
By the Reagan-era ’80s, movies were sunnier, and so was the view of Manhattan. In Ron Howard’s delightful Splash, mermaid Daryl Hannah is literally a fish out of water. She splashes ashore at the Statue of Liberty, falls for landlubber Tom Hanks, and makes the front page of the New York Post. Somehow, she also finds time for a Bloomingdale’s shopping spree — proving that you don’t have to be human to look good in designer clothes.
<p.Paul Mazursky's Moscow on the Hudson also includes a stop at Bloomingdale’s, but this time Bloomie’s doesn’t just epitomize New York, it stands for all of America — at least to Vladimir (Robin Williams), a Soviet musician who decides to defect in this ”decadent” department store. This sets the tone for a gently idealized portrait of New York as the ultimate melting pot: an equal opportunity town where anyone, regardless of origin, can become a street vendor, a cab driver or a working musician.
If Mazursky’s comedy celebrates assimilation, ”Crocodile” Dundee is a different animal. Here the hero survives New York simply by being himself. Aussie outdoorsman Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) is almost as primitive as Tarzan when it comes to big-city ways. Then he meets an assortment of pimps, muggers, and snobs, and gets a crash course in Manhattan hospitality. He is not fazed, however. Whether sleeping on the floor of his Plaza hotel suite or jumping over commuters on a jam-packed subway platform, Dundee takes Manhattan on his own terms. And Manhattan complies.
Knowing Macaulay Culkin’s resourceful Kevin McCallister, we might have assumed he’d take a Crocodile-size bite out of the Big Apple in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. But the filmmakers don’t really let him. They’ve gone to great lengths to get Kevin into town, ultimately just to set him up in an empty brownstone — where he can once more booby-trap those two bumbling burglars from the first film (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). That way, see, he’s technically ”home alone” again. As for the ”lost in New York” part — well, that sort of gets lost in transition. Kevin could be lost in Boston or San Francisco for all the culture-clashing he does here. Oh sure, he runs amok in the Plaza, but it could be any luxury hotel. When Kevin is out on the street, he’s not interacting with typical New Yorkers — he’s being chased by a couple of Chicago thieves.
It’s all just a setup for the same old Home Alone story — and millions of kids wouldn’t want it any other way. But that’s not to say they wouldn’t have cheered a truly clever Moppet Takes Manhattan. The filmmakers were content to channel their creativity into bigger, louder booby traps. Of course, if they’d really been creative, they’d have kept Kevin at the Plaza and let him use that as his playhouse. Oh well, maybe in Dennis the Menace 2.
Home Alone 2: C+
Tarzan’s New York Adventure: B
On the Town: A
Coogan’s Bluff: B
Moscow on the Hudson: B+
”Crocodile” Dundee: B