Sleeper Celluloid: Real Reviews of Fake Movies

You Can Go Home Again: A Review of Home Alone: Repossessed

Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller; Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Catherine O’Hara, John Heard, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Alan Ruck

(To see the official Home Alone: Repossessed poster, click here.)

Remember a couple of months back when photos began to surface of an emaciated and bearded Macaulay Culkin, leading to speculation that the former child star was drug-addled, destitute, or some combination of the two? Mac stayed mum, but directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street) ended the speculation when they announced that Culkin was getting into character and that they would be making what is technically the sixth installment in the Home Alone franchise. But does America really need to go Home again? Can such a premise hold any charm for audiences too young to remember the first films or too old to not be disillusioned by the intervening years?

Home Alone: Repossessed opens with a quick succession of scenes in which the now adult Kevin McCallister (Culkin) loses his job at an unnamed tech firm, his beautiful and much younger fiancée, and lastly his soulless, sprawling box of a house somewhere in the Las Vegas suburbs. Reduced to some home office furniture, a flat-screen TV, and several boxes of Annie’s organic mac & cheese, Kevin is rescued, as it were, from the Great Recession by the fortuitous timing of a phone call from his parents and a TiVo-ed movie. It seems that the elder MacCallisters (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard, squandered in what amounts to little more than a cameo) are away on a second honeymoon cruise in Alaska. After watching Angels with the Dirtiest Faces of Them All late one night and seeing one of the gangster characters evade capture by hiding out in an abandoned house, Kevin gets a brilliant idea: he’s going to return to Illinois, break into his temporarily empty childhood home, and survive there for as long as he can. In a neat twist, the former defender of the domestic has now become an invader.

Culkin is thirty-three and wears his years well. There’s a brilliant moment early in the film when Kevin awakes in his practically empty house, trudges into the bathroom, and goes through what is essentially shot-for-shot the same sequence from the first Home Alone. Those of us old enough to remember that film will no doubt feel a lump in our collective throats when Kevin splashes the aftershave on his cheeks without the slightest reaction. He simply stares for a moment in the mirror and then runs his hands through his thinning hair before pinching a blackhead on his brow. Here is a portrait of a man who has lost faith in himself and the world.

Adding to Kevin’s problems is the inevitable return of the Wet Bandits. A parallel plot line follows the parole of Harry (Joe Pesci, who must be grateful for something to do other than parodies of himself in Snickers commercials), who is picked up outside the gates of Statesville by his old partner Marv (Daniel Stern), in a scene reminiscent of the beginning of The Blues Brothers. Harry is still sore, physically and psychologically, from his past encounters with Kevin. He’s also terminally ill with prostate cancer. As a final gift to a friend, Marv suggests that they return to the one house they couldn’t successfully burgle, and the course is set for a collision between the squatter and the thieves.

The second third of the movie is basically a rehash of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, but the elaborate traps and sadistic pranks feel tired this time around as Kevin and the Wet Bandits battle for control of the house. In a key moment, with Marv stuck in the kitchen window a la Pooh Bear and with Harry, clutching his groin, his hair singed and one hand stuck in a food processor, Kevin sinks to the floor and starts to sob. He admits to the crooks his various failures. He never imagined that the high point in his life would have been besting them. Now they’re clutching at straws and scrambling after crumbs. How did everything go so wrong? Kevin asks. Reminding us why he won an Academy Award, an amazingly tender Pesci finds a soul in Harry, who manages to somehow comfort Kevin while giving vent to a long-simmering rage. In Home Alone: Repossessed, it’s not only criminals but also the children of the 90s who’ve been screwed over by the system.

In the final act, Kevin and the Bandits go to Chicago to take on the real crooks. It seems that the Mayor (Alan Ruck, in a piece of inspired casting) has been getting cozy with corporate interests and large campaign donors at the expense of the citizens. Our heroes align themselves with some Occupy-like outfit and use the tried-and-true traps and tortures to expose the Mayor’s malfeasance.

Home Alone grossed over $533 million and remains one of the most popular films of the 1990s, a decade that in retrospect seems more and more like a Golden Age. It would be nice to think that Hollywood would be attuned to how things have changed and offer up stories that help us to conceive of better futures rather than to long for unrecoverable pasts, but the movies have always trafficked in nostalgia, which requires less thought and brings in more receipts at the box office. Look for Home Alone: Repossessed to be the first in a wave of films that represent the 1990s as a paradise lost.

Case in point, just last week Variety reported that director Penny Marshall and star Tom Hanks have signed on for Small, which involves a now middle-aged and morose Josh Baskin searching for a magical Zoltan machine to make him a little boy once more.

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Paul Durica has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and is a PhD candidate in the Department of English Language & Literature at the University of Chicago. His writing has appeared in Tin House, Indiana Review, and Mid-American Review among other places and is forthcoming in ACM and The Chicagoan. He is the founder of Pocket Guide to Hell, a series of tours and reenactments that have been written about in the New York Times, Huffington Post, ReadyMade, and Vice. He lives in Chicago with his two cats.