Watching "Home Alone: The Holiday Heist" (subtitled as such in order to clearly distinguish itself from the other four films in the series), one nearly forgets that the original film was a cultural phenomenon that was number one for twelve weeks (from November to February), and written by one of the most popular and influential screenwriters of the 1980s. I'm probably just dazed by the unrelenting worthlessness of the previous 90 minutes, but it's hard to think of another sequel made under any circumstances that strayed so far from what made its progenitor a hit. The film achieves a shocking level of tone-deafness that defies even the low expectations set by the film's status as a made-for-TV movie dumped on DVD nearly a year after it premiered.
While it's true that the pop culture legacy of Home Alone is the booby traps, John Hughes' affinity for the feelings of young people provided that film's emotional core. Kevin McCallister's fear of the basement is something kids his age are meant to honestly relate to, and Chris Columbus directs the furnace with a knowing flair. Finn is also afraid of the basement, but there's not an ounce of recognizable human emotion or directorial wit in it; the detail is simply there to keep the wheels of the plot turning. Kevin's parents were also a portrait of recognizable people, heightened only slightly for comic effect, with Catherine O'Hara expertly imbuing big moments with legitimate warmth. Here, once her character learns Finn and Alexis might be in danger, Harvey screams into a telephone with all the nuance and emotional depth of a cartoon character.
Tragically, "The Holiday Heist" was directed by Pete Hewitt. Once upon a time, Hewitt helmed imaginative, memorable films like Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and The Borrowers, yet his efforts on "The Holiday Heist" never even attempts to rise above the brightly-lit, artificial appearance of a TV movie, staged without energy or twit. The closest he comes to innovation is the big "booby trap set-up" scene, which depicts multiple Finns rigging devices all at the same time. The film's so limply staged that Hewitt's even slightly upstaged by the production design. For whatever reason, the house seems to have been partially designed to resemble the one from the original, allowing Hewitt the opportunity to rip off at least one scene (Finn sledding down the stairs) without changing any of the angles.
The last line of defense in this regrettable production is the cast, and none of them are able to invest the picture with any spark either. Martyn looks and sounds too old to be hiding under his sheets, and the film splits its time so much between Finn, the villains, his parents, his sister, and a younger neighbor that he hardly feels like the film's protagonist. McDowell, Mazar, and Ed Asner (in a cameo destined for Ernest Borgnine, were he still alive) show up and do their job, which in the case of McDowell and Mazar, involves being covered in goop and falling down. Like Finn and his parents, these bad guys aren't people, but cartoons who can't get out of a partially shut window or break out of a snowman, and all three of whom, through the nature of the plot, must briefly believe in ghosts. From beginning to end, this is an empty, flimsy experience, topped off by a half-hearted lesson about the true meaning of Christmas. The antics of Home Alone may strike some people as obnoxious, but at least there were aspects of the original film that were not cynical -- this soulless cash-in is an excellent measure of how empty a film can get.
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