By Owen Gleiberman
Updated July 25, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

John Hughes started out making fresh, witty entertainment for teenagers (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club), but in the last few years he has turned into a brazenly cynical audience manipulator. His latest sure-to-be-a-hit comedy is about a rambunctious little tyke, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), whose suburban family accidentally leaves him behind when they take off for a Christmas trip to Paris. The movie, written and produced by Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting), succeeds — at least for a few scenes — at tapping into the universal terror and exhilaration of being left alone in an upper-middle-class home stuffed with leisure-time goodies.

Hughes, though, can’t resist turning Home Alone into a sadistic festival of adult-bashing. When Kevin is set upon by a pair of bumbling thieves (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), the kid proceeds to defend the family castle by rigging an elaborate series of booby traps. The movie devolves into an egregious Three Stooges painfest: We’re meant to giggle and clap along with Kevin as the crooks get their heads singed with blowtorches and walk barefoot on glass.

Then, since this is the holiday season, we get incongruous scenes of Christmas-spirit, family-reunion toastiness, and also a bit in which the lonely old man next door (Roberts Blossom) is reunited with his family, who are wheeled in from out of nowhere for a teary climax. By then, Hughes is pulling our strings as though he’d never learned to do anything else. D

Home Alone

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 103 minutes
  • Chris Columbus