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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Home’ Again for the Holidays : Didn’t We See This Picture Last Year?

TIMES FILM CRITIC

If at first you chance to succeed, do it all over again.

This, the battle plan of all Hollywood sequels, has rarely been followed with as much fanatical zeal as it has in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” Less a successor to the original “Home Alone” than a relentless attempt at exact duplication, this film tries ever so carefully to parallel its parent, and no wonder. “Home Alone” is the third-highest grossing film in motion picture history, a level of success no one was about to tamper with.

But while love is said to be grander the second time around, movies usually aren’t, and “Home Alone’s” brain trust, perhaps worried about that possibility, ended up overcompensating. Whatever was unforced and funny in the first film has become exaggerated here, whatever was slightly sentimental has been laid on with a trowel. The result, with some exceptions, plays like an over-elaborate parody of the first film, reminding us why we enjoyed it without being able to duplicate its appeal.

Once again it is a chaotic Christmastime at the McCallister house, complete with dense parents, crude in-laws and insensitive siblings. Once again the McCallisters mess up their alarm clock and have to rush pell-mell to the airport to catch a vacation flight. And, though they don’t leave young Kevin (the redoubtable Macaulay Culkin) at home this time, they do manage to lose him at the airport, where he ends up on a flight to New York while they are off to Florida. “This happened to me last year,” the lad says to an airline employee. No kidding.

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Once in New York, producer John Hughes’ screenplay expends a modicum of originality on getting Kevin checked into a suite at the Plaza, referred to so often as the city’s “most exciting hotel experience” that the movie starts to feel like a large-scale ad for Donald Trump, who makes a cameo appearance. And, just like last year, Kevin gorges himself on junk food and junkier movies, happier than he ever could be with his feeble family.

But, wouldn’t you know it, those dread but dense burglars Harry and Marvin (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) have also just arrived in New York, fresh from a prison break and ready for all manner of evil deeds. Of course they run into Kevin, and of course, he manages to lure them into a deserted house where he can continue inflicting the kind of punishment on the bad guys that made the first film so popular.

That slapstick combat, which had a welcome freshness and surprise the first time around, now has an overly frantic, can-we-top-ourselves air that is still amusing but not nearly as much fun. Also, the stunts have quite consciously crossed over from borderline cartoonishness to outright sadism. Firing a staple gun into Marvin’s forehead, no matter how cleverly done, still may not be everyone’s idea of a good time.

A good time is also what “Home Alone 2’s” actors don’t seem to be having. Though everyone goes through the paces gamely enough, there is an air of tiredness to most of the performances. Even Macaulay Culkin, appealing though he still is, seems ever so slightly bored with his role, and his trademark screams have lost their wild abandon.

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Given this, it’s not surprising that the best performance in this film comes not from any of the returning cast members but from Tim Curry, who has a spry comic turn as Mr. Hector, the Plaza’s insufferably snoopy concierge. Displaying the spirit the others lack, Curry energizes the film every time he is on the screen, a boost Chris Columbus’ otherwise pro forma direction is always grateful for.

Though the first “Home Alone” had its moments of undue sentimentality as Kevin dealt with the specter of a frightening neighbor played by Roberts Blossom, the sequel makes that episode look almost restrained. It features both Eddie Bracken as the nicest, sweetest man in New York and Brenda Fricker as the Pigeon Lady, a lonely street person whose life is headed in the wrong direction before a thoughtful heart-to-heart with Kevin, the world’s youngest advice columnist, brings a little light into her humdrum life.

In fact, “Home Alone 2" (citywide, rated PG for comic action and mild language) is so awash in what Kevin’s brother Buzz would call “a gooey show of emotion” that it feels like Hughes and company wanted to make a holiday perennial that would earn money year after year. Instead, this film has as much lasting appeal as a Hallmark card with a joy buzzer attached. You’ll smile slightly, but the only ages this film is destined for are those not yet old enough to vote.

‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’

Macaulay Culkin: Kevin McCallister

Joe Pesci: Harry Lyme

Daniel Stern: Marvin Murchins

John Heard: Peter McCallister

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Catherine O’Hara: Kate McCallister

Brenda Fricker: The Pigeon Lady

Tim Curry: Mr. Hector

Released by 20th Century Fox Pictures. Director Chris Columbus. Producer John Hughes. Executive producers Mark Radcliffe, Duncan Henderson, Richard Vane. Screenplay John Hughes. Cinematographer Julio Macat. Editor Raja Cosnell. Costumes Jay Hurley. Music John Williams. Production design Sandy Veneziano. Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute.

MPAA-rated PG (comic action and mild language).


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