2 stars out of 5

Since its successful release, “Home Alone” has remained a standard Christmas movie staple along with other holiday flicks like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), “A Christmas Story” (1983), and “Elf” (2003).

“Home Alone” centers on 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) who’s accidentally left at home by himself as his family flies to Paris for Christmas. Meanwhile two burglars, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), who call themselves the “Wet Bandits,” have been scoping out the McCallister’s neighborhood looking for the best house to break into.

And if there’s one thing Hollywood does well, its squeeze a successful movie for every last ounce of money it can, right down to the last dollar bill.

Two years later, the sequel “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” was released. Culkin returns as Kevin McCallister, along with Pesci, Stern and other actors.

Since the release of “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” the franchise has spawned three more sequels – “Home Alone 3” (1997), “Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House” (2002), and “Home Alone 5: The Holiday Heist” (2012).

Now that Disney owns 20th Century Fox, which produced “Home Alone,” it has decided to make its own film – “Home Sweet Home Alone,” released Nov. 12 on Disney+.

This installment, which evidently takes place in the same world as the original, centers on married couple Jeff (Rob Delaney) and Pam McKenzie (Ellie Kemper) who are trying to sell their home.

They have both come into financial struggles, as Jeff recently lost his job and Pam simply doesn’t make enough to maintain the cost of a home.

Jeff and Pam are a respectable couple, struggling to stay financially afloat and provide for their family, especially as Christmas approaches.

While they’re having an open house, Max Mercer (Archie Yates) and his mom, Carol (Aisling Mercer) stop in so Max can use the bathroom. Max is bitter as his mom won’t take him to McDonald’s.

After finishing up, Max runs into Jeff who’s sorting through a box of his grandmother’s antique dolls. One of these dolls, Jeff finds, was erroneously manufactured with its head upside down. Carol comments that such dolls are often very collectible and sell for a lot of money.

For no reason, Max makes fun of Jeff for having dolls in his possession and then says he “looks like Frankenstein.”

When Max and his mom return home, their whole family is preparing for a trip to Tokyo for Christmas. Things around the house are chaotic with cousins, uncles and aunts running around as they prepare to leave in the morning. The chaos drives Max to hide in his mom’s car in the garage for some quiet and solitude.

Jeff’s wealthy brother, Hunter, and his wife and kids stop by unexpectedly early to spend Christmas with them. Having his well-off brother and in-laws stay over the holidays makes Jeff and Pam feel worse about their struggle to make Christmas a good one for the kids.

Later, when Jeff finds the exact same error doll being sold on eBay for $200,000, he goes to retrieve the one his grandmother owned, only to find it missing. Right away, he assumes Max stole it. It’s funny how the movie turns Max into the crook, and Jeff and Pam the innocent victims.

Max meanwhile falls asleep in the car while his family scrambles to head out on their Tokyo trip. So, they leave without him.

Jeff is able to track where Max and Carol lives. So, he heads over to talk to Carol and inquire about the doll.

He finds Max’s relatives rushing to leave. Thinking Jeff is one of the airport drivers, they tell him Carol and Max left on an earlier flight.

And as everyone else is about to leave, Jeff overhears one of the relatives say the home security alarm code out loud. He also sees someone place the house key underneath the flowerpot by front of the door.

Later, Jeff and Pam return to Max’s house, unaware he’s been left behind. Peering through the window, they think they see the doll is still in Max’s coat pocket.

As they make their way inside the home, Max hears them talking about what they’re going to do now that they’re in and gets the impression they’re plotting to kidnap him, and then sell him for $200,000. Their initial attempt is thwarted, so they plan to return later.

Max prepares for their return by setting up traps and hazards all around the house to inflict as much harm as he can.

Producers at Disney tried to do something different with the franchise, rather than have a complete remake of the first. It tries to be its own thing. I appreciate that.

But rather than tell a likeable Holiday story, the entire set-up feels off, and the premise seems forced.

Both Pam and Jeff are likeable characters. Yet, they’re the new “Wet Bandits,” though they’re neither of those things. While I’m no legal expert, I think they’re justified in trying to get their priceless doll back despite the questionable means by which they’re taking it back.

Like all the other “Home Alone” movies, the audience gets to watch, as the home invaders are physically pulverized in slapstick fashion by the home-made “security” devices set up by the young protagonist — Max, in this case.

Still, while the couple are trying to get back their stolen property in order to provide for their kids, how is the audience supposed to feel justified watching them go through the physical torture Max puts them through? The slapstick is the highlight of all the movies just like the original. Slapstick itself isn’t the problem.

With this movie, Pam and Jeff certainly don’t deserve their torture. At least all the other “Home Alone” movies got that part right, for what it’s worth. Did the writers think this through?

It’s curious to watch what an 8-year-old would do if he were left alone by accident. What shenanigans would he do when mom and dad aren’t around? What would that do to him emotionally? That’s what makes “Home Alone” a fun movie.

In the original, Kevin McCallister develops as a character. He matures during his time alone. He realizes how important his family is shortly after they leave him. Kevin also takes it upon himself to do the menial tasks he depended on others to do for him such as laundry and grocery shopping. He even overcomes his childish fear of the basement furnace. That’s a big deal to an 8-year-old.

In “Home Sweet Home Alone,” we just watch Max do the obvious — pig out on candy because the first movie did it. We watch him surf on an ironing board because Kevin did something similar in the first movie. And then we watch him set up his house traps. After that, his character arc is done.

Too much of the “Home Sweet Home Alone” scenes are lacking heart. For instance, in the original movie, when Kevin has an argument with his mother after he feels the family has ganged up on him and pushed him around like he’s an afterthought, he ends the argument with his mother by shouting “I hope I never see any of you jerks again.”

This anguish lingers like heavy smog over his mother, especially when she realizes in mid-flight to Paris that she left her son home. She can’t forgive herself for this huge mistake, even to where she asks, “What kind of a mother am I?”

It’s a bit gut-wrenching to see Kevin’s mom go through this.

But in the new movie, this conflict is reenacted when Max’s mom won’t take him to McDonald’s after he intentionally insults, really for no reason, Jeff after using his bathroom.

“Mom, you can’t promise a kid McDonald’s and not deliver,” Max says.

After that, he just doesn’t want to be around his family because they’re too loud and irritating.

The entire film is deep in throwbacks and nods to the original movie with references, similar soundtracks and some of the same catchphrases from the first movie. Also, Kevin’s older brother, Buzz (played again by Devin Ratrey) returns as a police officer.

Buzz is now a police officer, and his role is simply used to cover a major plot hole when the police are contacted regarding a child left home alone. Wouldn’t the police take this matter seriously?

Buzz thinks the 9-1-1 call about a child left home alone is Kevin playing a joke on him.

“The idiot does it every year,” Buzz tells dispatch and tells them to ignore it.

The movie bulldozes its way through all the modern means of communications which his mom could easily use to reach out to Max. But, the family computer has a parental block on it. The voice activated “home bot” (similar to an Alexa or a Siri) doesn’t have voice calling capabilities. So, Max can’t call his mom.

Neighbors aren’t contacted. No text messages are sent. Nothing. Max refuses to contact police because he fears it’ll lead to his parents getting arrested for leaving him behind.

I wanted to like this movie. I thought a new sequel would have been a lot of fun to watch, especially with rumors circulating that Macaulay Culkin was going to reprise his role as Kevin (spoiler- he doesn’t.)

Regardless, I hoped Disney would make something respectable, even for a reboot, which are seldom, if ever, better than or equal to the original film. Disney does have a knack for knowing how to appeal to fans of a franchise.

Kemper and Delaney are enjoyable. I got most of my laughs from them. Both put a lot of effort into their roles, and it shows. Unlike Harry and Marv, their characters are sympathetic. The movie is really about them and their dilemma.

Archie Yates gives a fantastic and memorable performance in the 2019 film “Jojo Rabbit.” That talent does shine through as well in this movie. But the writing he’s given is poor. As the story is really about the couple; Max feels more like a side character or an obstacle.

As a whole, the movie is one lazy mess going out of its way to call back “Home Alone.” As a kid’s movie, which this is, it certainly shows how Disney seems too timid to take a chance on original content.

In one scene, Jeff’s brother, Hunter (Tim Simons) is watching a movie that’s throwing out some very familiar dialogue.

“Ugh, this is garbage,” he shouts to whoever’s listening. “I don’t know why they are always trying to remake the classics. Never as good as the originals!”

At least the movie is self-aware.

MICHAEL SELLMAN is an employee of the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library and an occasional freelancer for The Junction City Union.

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