MOVIE REVIEW : Kid Plays It for Laughs in ‘Home Alone’
How close can a movie resemble a cartoon and still be called a movie? “Home Alone,” another kiddie comedy from the slush pile of John Hughes, isn’t a cartoon movie in the way that, say, “Dick Tracy” is. Its graphic style is closer to overheated sitcom than comic-book. But the ways in which its characters collide and carom off the walls are strictly funny-pages stuff. No one in this clobber-comedy movie seems to have a nervous system.
Kevin (Macauley Culkin) is the 7-year-old pipsqueak upstart accidentally left behind by his vacationing family when they jet to Paris for Christmas. With all the telephones in the area out, and the neighbors on vacation, the tiny terror is forced to fend for himself against a bumbling pair of house thieves (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern).
The film (citywide) is one long lead-up to the final siege, as Kevin fortifies his home with an impressive array of make-shift weaponry. It’s a gruesome premise, and director Chris Columbus, working from a Hughes script, plays the situation for knockabout laughs. The best parts play like a kid’s primal wish-fulfillment fantasy. Alone and unsupervised, Kevin pigs out on junk food and trashy videos; when the thugs show up, he takes special pride in his own macabre ingenuity.
If the movie (rated PG-13) had stuck to its Road Runner-style shenanigans it might have been a disreputable success. Macauley Culkin has the kind of crack comic timing that’s missing in many an adult star, and, even when the script gets soppy, he doesn’t turn himself into a cutesy ball of gloppy goo. He is refreshingly abrasive throughout.
But the same can’t be said for the rest of the cast. As Kevin’s parents, John Heard and Catherine O’Hara are sane and engaging but not quite crackpot enough for this movie’s off-center universe. (Rick Moranis in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” was the ideal kiddie parent.) Once the family discovers they’ve left Kevin behind, the race to retrieve him is undercut with sentimentality; his parents realize how much they really love him, and vice versa.
Hughes always has had a sentimental side, and it’s his worst side. Remember the blubbery finale to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”? It gets even worse when Kevin persuades an old guy (Roberts Blossom) from the neighborhood to make peace with his estranged son. Kevin is too annoyingly mischievous and peculiar to be turned into Tiny Tim.
The heartfelt stuff also sabotages the knockabout antics. By introducing the “real” world of pain and loss, the filmmakers run a great risk. When the robbers stage their siege, it’s difficult to suddenly suspend disbelief: The notion of an abandoned child standing up to thugs is too potentially upsetting for the slapstick treatment it receives here. It’s like “Straw Dogs” redone by the Three Stooges.
There’s something a mite sadistic in the way the filmmakers have engineered the final confrontation; they arrange it so that little Kevin never even thinks to ask for help. And even though Stern and Pesci have been encouraged to act like super goofs, that only drives home how avidly the filmmakers are trying to paper over the film’s seamier side.
“Home Alone” delivers enough laughs that these objections may not matter (or occur) to most people. But there is a reason why this film plays better as a trailer than as a full-length film. Taken individually, out of context, its gags can be appreciated without having to fight off a lot of unsettling associations. In context, the gags leave a sour aftertaste.
A 20th Century Fox release of a John Hughes production. Executive producers Mark Levinson & Scott Rosenfelt. Producer John Hughes. Director Chris Columbus. Screenplay John Hughes. Cinematography Julio Macat. Music John Williams. Production design John Muto. Costumes Jay Hurley. Film editor Raja Gosnell. With Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, John Heard, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, Roberts Blossom, John Candy (uncredited). Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.
MPAA-rated: PG-13 (slapstick violence.)
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