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All pain, no gain, and very few laughs

There are bad movies—films so immature, inane, or aggressively idiotic that there is no salvation in the rental afterlife. Home Sweet Home Alone is such a film.

Archie Yates stars at Max in "Home Sweet Home Alone".

MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: NR
Reel Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

There are bad movies that are nonetheless enjoyable—even thoroughly enjoyable. They won’t make much at the box office and they certainly won’t impress pretentious critics like myself. But films such as The Room, Space Mutiny, and Trolls 2 will find an appropriate niche on late night cable or Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Then there are bad (bad!) movies—films so immature, inane, or aggressively idiotic that there is no salvation in the rental afterlife. Home Sweet Home Alone is such a film. It fails on nearly every front, a fact made only sadder by being stocked with talent both below and above the line. Only a few genuine laughs, like desperate gasps while drowning at sea, keep this monstrosity afloat. It would have been better to let it sink.

The narrative, in a break from tradition as the sixth installment in the Home Alone franchise, focuses not on a young child left accidentally behind, but on a pair of adults—Jeff and Pam McKenzie (Rob Delany and Ellie Kemper)—who have fallen on hard times. Prepared to sell their family home with Christmas only days away, Jeff discovers that one of his grandmother’s heirloom dolls is worth over $200,000. Unfortunately, it gets stolen by Max (Archie Yates), the ten-year-old son of their new neighbor. When Max is left “by himself in his own house” on Christmas Eve, the couple hatch a plot to take back what it rightfully theirs.

The heist, of course, goes terribly wrong as Max falsely believes they are attempting to kidnap and sell him to a nursing home to be cheek-pinched and fed grape nuts all day. He prepares the standard “lil-Saw”-style booby traps, which result in the hapless thieves being maimed and plumed in increasingly bizarre and violent ways. This sequence is the “heart and soul” of any Home Alone film but here lasts only about fifteen minutes. And the audience must tread through over an hour of bad jokes to get there. It ends in spectacularly stupid fashion, as everyone gets exactly what they want and no one—not the kleptomaniac brat, the bungling buglers, or even the neglectful mother—face any repercussions in any way.

Home Sweet Home Alone makes a critical mistake right from the gate. It portrays the McKenzie couple—technically the villains of the film—not just in a sympathetic light, but actively encourages the audience to root for their larceny. After all, Jeff recently lost his job, and Pam is working to support the family. Their children are young and kind. Jeff hosts his obnoxious brother for Christmas who insists on sleeping in their bed, leaving the McKenzies on the couch. By contrast, Max is the spoiled child of a wealthy British businesswoman. He is annoying, rude, and devious.

A film like this cannot have nuance and experiment with character archetypes. The audience enjoyed watching Harvey and Marv maimed in the first Home Alone because they were dangerous criminals set on harming an innocent child. Indeed, the only time I audibly laughed in watching this sorry effort was a (surprisingly) subtle reference to the original.

Disney has always toned down their source material for a younger audience, but now, in the post-Lasseter era, Disney edits its content for the secular audience. Gone are mean terms such as “stupid, idiot, or moron.” There are at least two small “gay” references, including the unsupervised Max trying on his mother’s evening dress. And, of course, there cannot be any winners or losers: the doll is found, the misunderstanding explained, the house is saved, and the film ends with the two families having Christmas dinner the next year.

It’s like a bad Seinfeld episode in which several neurotic people spend massive amount of time and energy tripping each other up—but no one learns anything. While this might seem “nice”, it’s a subconscious jab about and at traditional Christian ethics. It’s hard to love your enemies, so don’t have any at all. It’s too difficult to do good, so eliminate the categories of good and evil altogether. Without any sort of moral drama, dullness reigns.

Occasionally, I think it is important for critics to watch a really, really bad movie. It reminds them that studio moguls are men, not gods. Or even geniuses. Millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of labor can be (and too often is) spent on a piece of entertainment that is complete garbage. This film starred several extremely funny comedians and was apparently based on a script by the great John Hughes himself. There are dozens of Emmy nominations among the cast and crew. None of that could save an idea that was…well, just bad. Hopefully, they learned their lesson. But if Max and the McKenzies didn’t, I doubt the filmmakers will as well.

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About Nick Olszyk 205 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online and listen to his podcast at "Catholic Cinema Crusade".

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