Otherwise known as Home Alone 4…otherwise known as Home Alone For What?
Apparently, the trauma and self-loathing of leaving their wandering wee one behind every time they take a trip has taken its toll on the entire McCallister family. Dad has abandoned Mom for a young trophy whore and Kevin's older brother and sister have turned all sick and twisted. Daily life in the legally separated existence of the brood includes beating up on Kevin, ridiculing Kevin, and berating Kevin. So when that most magically suicidal time of year shows its yuletide head, the house divided must find a way to conform to everyone's pretrial Christmas wishes. Dad attempts to buy off the brats by inviting them to step-skank's ultra-über-duber-tuber tech smart house (which if it was so danged clever would have known to avoid this movie altogether) filled with all the materialistic bribes a custody-battling parent could require. Mom simply offers love, affection, and endless viewings of It's a Wonderful Life. The kids side with her (figures) and all is well until Kevin gets an ungrateful bug up his butt and decides to show up, unannounced, at Papa's new booty parlor. There he learns the true meaning of being spoiled rotten. After endless pampering, pandering, and expensive playthings, this kid stinks to high heaven. Even after causing unknown structural and resale value damage to the gifted mansion, Kevin is regarded as something precious. But then Marv, that felonious sucker for slapstick, shows up once again to spread his special brand of burglar bungling. And this time he's got inside help to aide him. Naturally, it's up to the too clever Kev to thwart the bad guys and protect the family estate. Again. Snore.
It's amazing how many people just absolutely love, adore, worship, and cherish that sad little combination of family traditions and outrageous physical comedy tortures known as Home Alone. Perhaps the generation who tantrumed their way into multiple theatrical showings of this saccharine De Sade showcase have matured to the point where they've web posted this movie into a higher echelon of critical consideration. Nostalgia has a funny way of making the mediocre seem far more important…just ask Madonna. Or maybe it's just a case of leftover love for the film's enigmatic '80s inventor. John Hughes can be thanked for many classic moving picture moments: Farmer Ted, elephantiasis jokes, "Save Ferris," and Wally World. But after hitting all the high notes it needed for special success, the superb Planes, Trains and Automobiles marked the end of a decidedly creative phase and Hughes went into hack hibernation. He decided to crack open that trunk full of crap that all writers keep hidden in their moldy basement or musty attic and recycle, recycle, recycle. When viewed in light of his oeuvre since then, Kevin McCallister's adventures in cartoonish pain production were just a more Acme-fied version of Uncle Buck, which was then turned into Curly Sue, which begat Dutch and Baby's Day Out and many other cases of massive cinematic scabies. Today, Hughes makes a hangar full of green by being in the "characters" business, meaning that pointless sequels of films he created the people (or in some cases, animal) personalities for have got to namecheck (and issue check to) this once viable moviemaker. Must be nice: getting a fat royalty dividend each and every time you have your legacy bastardized.
But it also means that we, the movie audience, have to suffer (and it is truly a test of endless endurance) the nauseating nonsense that is the unnecessary sequel. Currently, there are five Beethoven flicks, five Vacation films, a couple Dennis the Menace and Dalmatian duds apiece, not to mention the umpteen permutations on his patented physical comedy fracas fiascos. And why should Hughes care? By now he probably sits naked in his palatial estate lounging on a mile high pile of dinero, rubbing rubies into his rectum and laughing when yet another reverse learning scholar calls Career Opportunities a "misunderstood classic." So do we really need to fatten this man's fanny pack by devising still more dismal sequels to movies he barely made better? Well, tell that to the television turd known as Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House. It's not like much has changed since Macaulay Culkin face slapped his way to a two-part edition of the E! True Hollywood Story. In this fourth installment of the "unaccompanied abode/beat the snot out of bad guys" movie, Kevin McCallister is still the Typhoid Mary of home invasions. Wherever he goes, be it Chicago, New York, the Lesser Antilles, or his prospective stepmother's futuristic computerized house, criminals come calling to do a bit of larceny, or as in this case, royalty rustling. The fact that Kevin wreaks most of his havoc (sending billions of gallons of overfilled bathwater cascading down the massive staircase, interrupting an expensive catered affair) while moving within a house full of adults makes the premise even more unpalatable. And what about his Pop? Dad must know what the criminal Marv looks like by now. He's been a major part of his sad ass life. But still, every time the unfunny fellow mugs by him, there is nothing but blank stares.
Indeed, Home Alone 4 plays by a set of rules that MIT grad students with body odor are still trying to prove via high-powered electron microscopes. Rod Daniel, director of the definitive dog detective movie K-9 (successfully launching the superstardom of Jim Belushi along the way, as a side note) apparently subscribes to the elemental chaos theory of filmmaking since this movie is such an immense mess. Scenes end randomly, continuity errors abound, and the tone shifts wildly from stupid to schmaltzy within a nanosecond. And it's not just his production ideas that have issues. His movie preaches such inane notions as monetary gain and overt avariciousness being the simplest ways to self-satisfaction and that a child's tales of impending criminal activity be ignored at all costs. It forwards a feeling that all servants are disgruntled deviants looking for ways to rob their employers blind while simultaneously making a mockery of the entire divorce parent/child rearing relationship. Maybe it's the bizarre suggestion that Catherine O'Hara (SCTV) and John Heard (Big) have somehow magically transformed into a couple of non-descript coffee commercial actors—or that they've decided to split up—that destroys this film. Or maybe that little Michael Weinberg is the most awkward, broad gesturing, dumb double taking brat since Michael "Junior" Oliver slurred a script that torpedoes this tired tale.
Whatever it is, it cannot top the single weirdest thing about Home Alone 4: the performance by Third Rock from the Sun's French Stewart. Looking more like a shaved weasel than usual, he does the completely bizarre method turn of trying to channel and/or recreate Daniel Stern. That's right, the original Marv, Mr. Wonder Years himself, Daniel Stern. He attempts various vocal mimicries. He contorts his body into an attempted approximation of Dan's decidedly gangly gait. You can even see him sending frantic signals to his cerebellum, hoping that he can move his facial features into a more "Stern friendly" façade. It's a performance of such unique desperation that it deserves some manner of award. Still, no matter how hard he tries, he really can't capture what little magic the mighty Dan added to the first two films. Not that atypical of this flat fourth installment, come to think of it.
Fox braves grave critical backlash by releasing this movie in a flip disc disaster. Murdock's tricky product people, however, have done something so magnificently malfeasant and dastardly that they should be commended for their underhanded naughtiness. What they have done is take a made-for-television movie, shot in 1.33:1 and presented that way on side A of the DVD, and rematted it to create the letterboxed version on side B. Now, there is probably nothing new about this tactic. We critics hear about such reformatted presentations all the time, but this is one of the few cases where the original aspect ratio is purposefully destroyed to create a "sure to be complained about" widescreen edition. Tops of heads are unceremoniously chopped off. Action in the foreground is missing. Everything feels cramped and closed in. And the brilliance of this is that video store clerks and Megastore employees are now guaranteed to get multiple complaints about the so-called black bars that constantly mar the picture. A film illiterate public speaks again. Honestly, just stick with the full screen version. It is clear and crisp and pretty consistent, overall. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is pretty useless, unless you consider hearing a strange jingle bell bumper build-up every time something vaguely dramatic or wacky happens a necessary immersive experience. Trailers act as the sole bonus content. There is no commentary or making of featurette. Truly some manner of explanation is warranted for why this movie exists. It's a shame that everyone just sits back and lets the amazing mediocrity of Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House speak for itself. Someone associated with it should offer up their head to the cinematic chopping block. Just don't expect Master Hughes to fess up. He's too busy burying his loins in mountains of mink hand muffs to care.
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