NAME: HOME ALONE 4
WRITTEN BY: DEBRA FRANK & STEVE L. HAYES
DIRECTED BY: ROD DANIEL
STARRING: MICHAEL WIENBERG, FRENCH STEWART, MISSI PYLE
GENRE: FAMILY CRISTMAS COMEDY
BOUGHT FROM: A BOOTSALE
WRITTEN BY: DEBRA FRANK & STEVE L. HAYES
DIRECTED BY: ROD DANIEL
STARRING: MICHAEL WIENBERG, FRENCH STEWART, MISSI PYLE
GENRE: FAMILY CRISTMAS COMEDY
BOUGHT FROM: A BOOTSALE
I make no apologise for having nothing but fondness for the first "Home Alone," movie. and not being able to resist the temptation to watch at least a little bit of it if it's ever on. Yes it's formulaic and over-sentimental, it's moral is at best confused, and some people will never forgive it for bringing Macaulay Culkin to the world's attention (although he's had the last laugh over his detractors, because he's now regularly having sex with Mila Kunis and they're not). But I can forgive all that, because the scenes of him outsmarting Harry & Marv, torturing them with a variety or frankly genius homemade traps makes it all worth wild. Thoses scenes are the inside of a little boy's mind, and when I watch them I'm eight again, designing intricate death traps in the back of my Math's book when I should be learning my time's table. It's probably that movie's fault that to this day I'm convinced I'm numerically dyslexic. The second one I don't have the same affection for. It was alright, but even back then as I was watching it, I can vividly remember thinking, "This is the same movie as the last one." Plus he wasn't home, and since he was in a hotel he was never really alone either.
All of which makes it strange that I had no idea this movie existed. None whatsoever. I knew there'd been a third one, because it actually got a theatrical release, and I also remember one monthly movie magazine giving it three-out-of-five stars, at which point I decided never to buy another issue of that magazine again (I was a pretentious little wanker during my teenage years, but I never regretted that decision for a second, and still don't). I also know the third one, like "Halloween 3," didn't follow the exploits of the original cast and characters, but instead introduced us to a new kid, played by a new actor, and four new bad guys attempting to find a lost microchip, and also like "Halloween 3," this apparently resulted in something of a backlash from people who were angry not to see the continued adventures of Kevin McCallister up on the big screen. The fact that anyone could care that much is both funny and infuriating to me, but amazingly the people resposible for this seem to have listened, because Kev's back (although they'll have to make do with the small screen).
He's not played by Macaulay Culkin, because that would be strange. Inspired, but strange. Instead we get Michael Wienberg, and his casting has inadvertently opened a whole new can of worms. You see, maybe I'm wrong, but the Kevin in this movie seems significantly younger than the one we saw in "Home Alone 2." So do his brother and sister (actually they look younger than they do in any of the movies). Infact, so do his parents. So, if you're going to be literal-minded about things, this must surely mean this movie takes place before the events of that movie. So even though this is called "Home Alone 4," it's actually, "Home Alone 2," chronologically, which would make "Home Alone 2," now the new "Home Alone 3." I don't know where that leaves the original "Home Alone 3." Floating off into outer space trapped in The Negative Zone, maybe.
From the second I press play, it's obvious that nowhere near as much effort has gone into this as went into the first three. For a start, there's no real opening credits, the "Home Alone" logo just falls into view, with the "4," tagged onto it almost like it's an afterthought. Then the movie begins, and I noticed just how cheap the production value is. Yes, I get it, there's absolutely no artistic ambition here at all. I'm not saying there was much in the previous films, don't misunderstand me here, but the well has totally run dry on this one. It is now just about tacking the "Home Alone," brand onto anything and trying squeeze every last nickle, dime, penny, dollar and pound out of anybody that still remotely cares about it. A similar pillaging is happening with the "American Pie," franchise. The difference between those movies and this one however, and I can't believe I'm about to type this, is that I think the DTDVD "... Pie," movies may be of a higher quality than this. At the very least they still look a little bit like actual movie. This has the kind of look and feel to it of an early-ninties sitcom. Most TV shows today would be ashamed to look like this. It's descended from a bloodline where the first film alone raked in over $200,000,000 domestically and was once ranked as one of the highest grossing films of all time. You're telling me they couldn't afford slightly higher quality film stock?
We first meet Kevin when he's lying on his bed watching a video of his family celebrating last Christmas together, which we discover, once his Mother walks in and starts talking to him, actually was their last Christmas together as a family, as his mother and father are separated and in the process of divorcing. Not exactly cheerful stuff for a family Christmas movie, but then "It's a Wonderful Life," was all about suicide, so I can't say anything really. It does screw up my timeine though, as Kevin's Mum and Dad are still very much together in the second one. Maybe they get back together at the end... oh, who am I kidding? Of course they will. It almost goes without saying.
They talk about the split a little bit, Kevin asking if it was either his or his sibling's faults. We later find out that his parents split about eight months ago, which makes the fact that he seems to be asking these questions for the first time here odd. It becomes apparent in this scene that not only does the Kevin in this movie look alot younger than the last time we saw him, but he acts alot younger than in any of the other films. One of the fun things about the first film's script, and Culkin's performance, was that Kevin was portrayed as a kid with a vocabulary and understanding of the world around him way beyond his years, who would occasionally get excited about something and turn into a little boy again. They try to invoke a little bit of that on occasions, such as here when he spouts a cliche-filled monologue to his mother about the effects of divorce on children that he claims to have heard on TV, and later when, after being given a high-tech miniature plane by Natalie, his father's new girlfriend, he tell's his father, "I think she's trying to buy my affection." But other than that he's just a generic nine-year old, the kind you'd find in any movie like this. We don't even get a scene of him talking to himself in the mirror.
We see a little bit of his homelife when his brother and sister pretty much attack him unprovoked and sit on him. His brother at least sort of has a slight reason for doing it, as he apparently had plans that night that he can't take part in because he's got to babysit. His sister, on the other hand, seems to be doing it for no other reason than it's something to do. Their mother sees this happening and, instead of marching over there and pulling the little shits off their poor brother, just casually says, "Get off him." And when they don't, when they just sit there and have a conversation with her for a couple more seconds, she makes no further effort to make them. Jesus Christ, no wonder this kid misses his Dad.
And speaking of his Dad, here he comes to save the day! He privately tells his soon-to-be-ex-wife that he plans to marry Natalie, which she seem none-to-pleased about, and would like the kids to spend a couple of days with him over Christmas to get to know her better. To me, this isn't an unreasonable request, although I'll admit it's kind of sprung on her at the last minute. Her reaction to this however is akin to him asking if he could sacrifice one of them to Satan so he could sell his soul to him. She says he has to ask the kids if they'd like to go with him. The first two turn him down for really selfish reasons, like they'd fall out of the loop if they were away from their friends for two days, but Kevin reluctantly does so because he says he wouldn't want the family to be totally separated over Christmas.
Now surprisingly, this scene got an emotional reaction out of me. However, that emotion was anger. When Kevin is considering his father's offer, his Dad tells him that some kind of Royal Family will be staying with him and and Natalie soon and that he'd have a Crown Prince to play with. For a start, this is total bribery. Very strange bribery, because if his girlfriend is rich enought to hobnob with royalty, then why not just say how many cool toys they have waiting for him when he gets there? But this isn't what pissed me off the most. What got me was when Kevin looks over at his mother, she looks back at him with a look on her face that says, "Please don't do it." And when he decides to stay with her, she shoots him a smile as if to say, "Good boy, you made the right choice." It was as if she was telling him that wanting to spend Christmas with his father, a man he clearly adores, was a bad thing to want to do, and that in spurning him he had got his mother's approval. Talk about emotionally scarring this poor kid for life, now everytime his Dad wants to do something with him, all his Mother has to do is give him a sad look and he'll say no, because obviously Daddy is a bad man, and if he does anything with him, that makes him bad too!
Wow, I actually don't know where that came from. And before anybody says anything in the comments section, my parents have been happily married for over 20 years.
His Dad leaves clearly disappointed, and then their mother goes off with their sister to some kind of dance thing, leaving Kevin in the care of his brother. Knowing he'd spend the night torturing him, Kevin asked if he could be left home alone, and when his mother said no, he countered with, "You've done it before!" For my sins, this drew a small chuckle out of me. So they're alone together, and as expected Kevin is subjected to a list of humiliations, the most painful of which being when his brother slams a garbage can lid down on his hand as he's taking out the trash. When his mother comes home (without her daughter, it's worth noting), she finds him sitting on the stairs clearly upset, telling her that he hates his brother and never wants to be left alone with him again. Does she ask him what's wrong and what he did to him? No, she just chuckles and say, "Awwwww honey, I know he picks on you," in a highly patronising tone. And when he, not unreasonably in my opinion, says he wishes he was an only child, his mother acts all disappointed and tells him to go up to his room and think about all the things he does have, instead of the things he doesn't. WAT? This kid has been abused all night, and because he dares to be angry about it, you're sending him to his room? Oh Kevin, did you ever back the wrong horse.
Luckily, he realises this, and decides to take his Dad up on his offer, catching a cab to their place. Logically this makes no sense, because when he arrives it seems like this is the first time he's ever been there (again, this has taken eight months?), so how did he know the address? But that could have been overlooked if him getting there had been any fun. If this had been done with the spirit of the old movies in mind, we'd have had a sequence of Kevin ordering the cab, possibly altering his voice to sound like an adult as he did it, sneaking out of the house to get catch the ride, and then giving the driver some elaborate story about why a kid would need a cab anywhere at this hour. But with this movie, the next time we see Kevin the cab's already outside Natalie's place. He even pays with his piggy bank. The closest thing to an explaination we get is that the driver seems to have some kind of Eastern European accent, and being a forigner he's obviously an idiot and will fall for anything (that's the movie's seemingly zenophobic attitude, not mine).
As expected, the house is a mansion, and Natalie is indeed rich. Kevin manages to just catch the two of them after they've arrived back from some kind of charity fundraiser and are happily spending the night necking on the couch. He's instantly welcomed into the house, and to the film's credit, initially at least it doesn't portray Natalie as some awful shrew. She seems like a nice woman, who genuinely wants her fiance's kids to like her. And how could Kevin not when he sees his room, an electronic day-glo Wonder World of toys, video games, huge TV screens and a truly awesome looking gaming chair. It's every nine-year-old's dream. Actually fuck that, I want that room! She also tells him that the mansion is a "Smart House," and gives him an electronic key with which he can open or activate anything with just a few words. Gee, I wonder if that'll come in handy later?
It's around this point that we're introduced to the film's antagonists. In a strange move for a movie that seems to be at least half-heartedly pandering to nostalgia geeks, they decide to bring back only one of The Wet/Sticky Bandits, that being Marv, here recast with French Stewart, and give him a wife to act as his sidekick, named Vera, played by Missi Pyle. You'll probably be aware of both of them from previous TV or film work. Stewart played Harry, the most eccentric of a group of aliens disguised as a normal human family on the sitcom, "3rd Rock from the Sun," and had the distinction of being possibly the funniest character on that rare thing- the sitcom where almost all the characters were pretty amusing. Missi I've been a fan of for a while now. She played the alien love interest Laliari in one of my all-time favourite sci-fi films, "Galaxy Quest," and was also the hideous potential shemale Fran in "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story." Unfortunately she's also in "Big Fish," one of the few Tim Burton movie I don't like, but it could be worse, she could have been in "Planet of the Apes." She's attractive in a quirky way, and not afraid to take prat-falls or bury herself under mountains of make-up to get a laugh. I'm amazed she's not been called the new Lucille Ball yet, It seems like there's one of them every five minutes (I think it's Anna Faris' turn this week). To be honest, seeing them in this movie is a bit depressing, but I suppose bills need to be paid.
French Stewart's portrayal of Marv is strange, but I don't think that has much to do with him, as he's really playing Marv in name only. To explain- if you cast your mind back to the exploits of The Wet/Sticky Bandits from the first two movies, you'll remember that Marv was the comedy relief of the pair, the goofy idiot who who came up with those names after he started flooding people's houses and created a glove out of double-sided tape so he could easily steal change. Whereas his partner, Harry, was the grumpy, surly, slightly more serious straight man, the brains of the outfit, if such a thing even really existed. However, in this movie, Marv is suddenly all gruff and serious, constantly befuddled by his wife's ditziness. He acts... well, like Harry. If I had to take a guess at what happened, I'd say that in the original version on the script, this character was supposed to be Harry. Then Stewart was cast in the role, and it dawned on them that, even here, trying to pass this guy off as a character previously played by Joe Pesci wasn't going to fly, so they switched it to Marv at the last minute, and couldn't be bothered to do rewrites. Either that or the writers didn't know which character was which. That's entirely possible, too.
So they're staking out the place, with the intention to not rob it, but to get the lay of the land so that they can kidnap the Prince that had been previously mentioned and collect the ransom. As part of the staking out process, they decide to break into the house when they think it's empty in order to get the lay of the land, so to speak, doing this by using one of those voice keys (how did they get one of those, I wonder...) to open the back door. Only the house isn't empty, because Kevin is there, as he's been left home... alone. He literally flushes the pair of them out when he draws them into his bedroom's bathroom and pelts them with water from the power show. And I mean POWER shower, that thing's coming at them like six hoses. Eventually they ride the wave down the stairs, and Marv finally gets a good look at Kevin. "YOU!" he exclaims. "Hello, Marv," Kevin sarcastically replies. I can't really do justice to how surreal a moment it is when two characters who've met each other before meet again when played by two different actors. It's like that old comic book blurb, "Together again... FOR THE FIRST TIME!" I also for a second thought this stunt might be another sly wink at the audience, what with one of The Wet Bandits getting drenched and all, but I think that might be giving all involved too much credit there.
Marv and Very swiftly depart, leaving Kevin to try and explain to his Dad and incoming Step-Mother why the entire first floor of their home is now a paddling pool. He tells them what happened, and calls for their butler, Prescott (Erick Avari), to back him up, as he's in charge of all the cameras in the house and must have seen what happened. He, however, claims to have seen nothing, and accuses Kevin of treating the house like one big toy. It's this scene, and the one later where Marv says they have an "inside man," on the property, that's supposed to make us think that Prescott might be in league with the villains. He's also been nothing but hostile to Kevin since he got there. So it won't be him then, it'll be Molly (Barbara Babcock), the kindly irish maid who's adores Kevin. Mark my words.
Wanting to find evidence to back up his story, Kevin goes into Prescott's private quarters where the monitors are, and a place that he'd been sworn out of not too long ago, to try and find a tape of the event. Which he does, only to find the cameras had been turned off at the crucial moment. Then Prescott walks in on him sitting in his chair, Kevin screams, and... suddenly Kevin's not screaming anymore, and he answers Prescott's question about what he's doing there in a calm manner? Okay, this is a TV movie, and that's clearly where an ad break would have gone, but couldn't they have smoothed out the edit even a little bit? That cut is really jarring. "Didn't I warn you what would happen if I ever caught you in here again?" Prescott asks. "Not specifically," Kevin replies, to which he's then informed, in as sinister a manner as is possible in a U-rated movie, "Trust me, it won't be pleasent." Okay, there's where the scream should have gone. Kevin's then saved by Molly, further proof that she'll be the bad guy.
Kevin's Father and Natalie discuss ways in which the can help Kevin adjust to the changes that are going on in his life, as they've decided that the events of that morning were him acting out. They decide that the best way to do it would be to trim the tree together, something that's alien to Natalie, as she's always had other people to do it for her. Again, this doesn't mark her out as a horrible person, just one that's lived her life in a bit of a bubble. By this point I was actually slightly impressed that the movie seemed intent on not going the easy route with their relationship. Everybody seems to be having a good time during the tree-trimming montage, laughing and smiling. And even when Natalie recieves a call for her to be somewhere, she doesn't kick up a stink when Kevin's Father says he'd like to stay home with his son, and her leaving doesn't spoil anything. Genuinely refreshing, and something I wasn't expecting. Of course, a chink in the armour appears the next day when the guys come downstairs to find their tree totally redecored by the professional tree trimmers that Natalie says she forgot to cancel, but even there, it could just have been a genuine mistake. The tree looks nicer now anyway. And all is forgotten when Kevin is allowed to open another present to find a fully-functioning spy kit. Wow, what a conveniently useful gift!
It's at this point that Kevin's Mother, missing him, decides to drop by the mansion along with the rest of the family. I like how in this scene Kevin's siblings now like him because he has cool toys. There's an awkward meeting between the Mother and Natalie, but that's to be expected, and again, neither woman is really portrayed as being better or worse than the other. The closest we get to that is Natalie's reaction to a story told about Kevin's bear, that being that he's going to be having so much fun playing with the Prince that he won't even miss it. She also expresses concern that the kids might break a garden sculpture with Kevin's toy plane, but after everything that's happened already I don't think that's an unreasonable concern, and almost immediately after she says that the plane bumps into the window, so she's not worrying about nothing.
Natalie and Kevin's Father leave him at home with the help whilst they go to the airport to pick up the Royal Family, and Kevin soon finds himself once again face-to-fact with Marv and Very, this time disguised as waiters for the party that's being thrown for the guests arrival. After locking Prescott in walk-in freezer (remember when you used to be able to do that to the butler in "Tomb Raider?" That was awesome), he then stalks his prey, who pretty much do themselves in- Vera gets in the sack that Marv intends to capture the kid in, and then even demonstrates how he'd lower him down from the window. Using the house's technology, Kevin manages to send both of them flying out the window, with Marv also getting a grappling hook up the arse for good measure. It was with this scene that I realised one of the big things that's wrong with this movie, and that's the fact tha Kevin doesn't really have to work or think too hard to beat these two. In the first one, it was fun watching him make his plans and put his traps together, because it helped illustrate how clever he was, and that's one of the big fantasies of a little boy, that if push came to shove, he could prove he's smarter than any adult in the room. Here, the house is already wired up to a computer, so he doesn't really have to do much. There are a few traps later on, but they're nowhere near as creative as past ones. One essentially involves tying a cooking pan to a piece of string and swinging it at them. Give me a blowtorch and a scolding hot doornob any day of the week.
The Royal Family's plane gets snowed in wherever it is that it's flying from, which bums Natalie out because now her party isn't going to be as special. She asks Kevin's Dad if it would be okay for her to announce their engagement instead to make up for it, which he agrees to. The announcment is indeed made, and everything seems fine, until in the aftermath of Kevin doing battle with Marv and Vera, Prescott gets released from the freezer and literally slides out of the kitchen and into the main hall like a human ice cube, knocking people over and sending things flying as he goes. Kevin again tries to explain to them what happened, and again they don't believe him. It's later revealed that he managed to record Marv talking with his spy equipment, so why he doesn't just play them that, I have no idea. In any event, he finds himself back where he was when he first decided to take his Dad up on his offer- sent to his room. Whilst there, he phones his Mother, who's tearfully watching "It's a Wonderful Life" (lucky cow). We later find out that it's supposed to be a family tradition for them all to watch this movie together over Christmas. I was unaware of that. I always thought the only Christmas tradition this family had was child abandonment. Later, whilst lying in bed, Kevin is visited by Natalie. At first she expresses concern for him. Then she says this: "If you ever pull a stunt like that again you'll be out of this house so fast your head'll spin. So your father's getting divorced, boo hoo, everybody's parents get divorced, that's life, you'll get over it. But you're not going to get between your father and me. He wants you in his life, and I think that's admirable, but if you want him in your life you better not cross me, understood?" Aaaaaaaaaand she's a cartoon villainess. Well there goes this movies one attempt at something close to complexity.
So Christmas morning comes, and Kevin's Dad and Natalie have to leave to pick up the Royal Family again, leaving him with the help once more. Seriously, at this point, if Kevin was just doing this to fuck with them, they have nobody to blame but themselves, because they keep leaving him. Yes, there are other people there, but they've proven themselves to be totally impotent in the face of this boy. Just put him in the fucking car and take him with you! It's a limo, there's room!
Marv and Vera recieve a call from their insider telling them to come back to the house. Literally seeing them coming thanks to his telescope, Kevin locks Prescott in the wine cellar and gets ready to defend the house, only to discover that he wasn't their informant, but instead it was... yep, Irish Molly. Who's also exposed as Marv's mother, just for kicks. They lock Kevin in the basement with Prescott, and they have a chat, where amongst other things Prescott reveals that he really didn't see what wet down that first day, because he was using his alone time to take a crafty nap, as Natalie works him practically 24 hours a day. He and Kevin share a laugh, seemingly become instant friends, and... oh, I get it now! This is that scene from the first two movies, where Kevin is initially scared of the Street Salter/Weird Bird Lady, but then talks to him/her to discover he/she has a heart of gold, and even gets helped by him/her in times of great need. Believe it or not, I find the fact tha the people remembered to include this scene almost comforting. A "Home Alone," movie wouldn't be the same without it.
They talk about how they're going to escape from the cellar, and Prescott eventually remembers he has a cell phone on him. Really, you just remembered that? In any event, instead of using it to call the police, he gives it to Kevin, who uses it to call his Mother's house three times before that battery dies. These two, geniuses. They then discover a Dumb Waiter (i.e. one of those food lift things) hidden behind some boxes, and Kevin uses it to escapes the Cellar and once again attempt to fend off his nemesises (nemesi?). I should really go into detail about this sequence, but to be honest with you, it's really nothing special. There's one creative trap set up, when Kevin rigs a pair of fake legs up to poke out from under his bed that, when pulled, causes a bookshelf to fall on the person doing the pulling. Other than that it's one uninspired stunt after another.
So Kevin defeats that Bad guys, his Mum and Dad show up after they become concerned following the calls he made, the police come and take everybody away, Natalie and The Royals arrive, and then it seems like all the vaguely nice people get to have a happy ending- Kevin's Dad literally out of fucking nowhere decides he still loves his wife and wants to return to his family (hey, my timeline holds up!), Prescott quits his job, The Royal Family decide to spend Christmas with Kevin's so their son will have someone to play with, and Kevin gets not only his family back, but snow for the holidays. And what does Natalie get? She gets to cry and hyperventilate into a brown paper bag.
To say this film is the worst in this series is putting it mildly. The acting's nowhere near as good, with the exception on Stewart and Pyle who work harder trying to squeeze laughs out of the material than is strictly advisable, the script seems to have been written by two people with only a passing notion of what came before it, and it looks cheap, as already mentioned. But none of that was really bothering me. To be honest with you, I didn't really know what was bothering me until I got half-way through my second viewing, and then it hit me- WHERE'S THE FUCKING "HOME ALONE," SCORE?! None of the signature themes are used anywhere. Even people who hate these movies will happily admit that the score is iconic. Hell, as a kid I really had no clue how important music was to the overall structure of a movie, and even I would sometimes find myself humming the instrumentals from these. How could anyone forget the happy one that goes, "Da-d-d-d-daaaaaa-d-da-d-d-d-duuuuu, da-da-da-da-doooooo" of the one just before The Bandit's show up that goes, "Da-d-d-dum, da-d-d-dum, da-d-d-dum, da-d-d-dum, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-D-D-DUM, DA-DADA-DADA-DUM, DA-DADA-DADA-DUM, DA-D-DA-D-DA-D-DUM-DUM!" I can't, obviously. But the people behind this did.
So, I suppose you're thinking, "Binned then?"
Well actually, no, you'd be wrong.
Nope, not that either. It's...
She'll like it, all she'll see is a cute little boy.
Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and Merry Christmas ya filthy animals.