Film Torments: Home Alone 3 (1997)
IT’S COMING up to that point in time that you know and we know so let’s not labour the point. It’s Christmas Month at Film Torments, and to celebrate this time of ostensible festivity and cheer, we have this lumpen piece of bollocks that even children shun: Home Alone 3.
You remember Macaulay Culkin. You don’t remember how to spell his first name. You probably remember John Hughes, a man who almost single-handedly codified the coming-of-age dramedy in the mid-80s with The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Molly Ringwald’s career in tow. At some point in the early 90s – 1990, to be precise – both the subjects of his films and his target audience became slowly, inexorably, younger. The original Home Alone, starring Culkin and backed by heavyweights like Joe Pesci (rendering de Niro’s comedic output miserable in comparison, by the way), was a monster success, remaining the highest-grossing comedy until The Hangover: Part II a good 20 years later. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, rather sensibly, was the exact same film, only in New York and having the good sense to cast Tim Curry.
Both films, with their larger-than-life characters, brutal slapstick and Christmas mis-en-scene piledrived Culkin into the social consciousness, forever associating him with a trap-savvy, quip-heavy sociopath before puberty could hit. We’ll not speculate on what drove Culkin to play kazoo in a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band, but the fact remains that Home Alone was already a franchise, one big enough to merit a second sequel. Far from capitalising, Hughes decided to wait five whole years before penning Home Alone 3, presumably allowing his intellectual property to simmer and bask in the $800 million it had already managed to gross.
The truth is, plans had been made to develop both Home Alone 2 and 3 in tandem, but these fell through. Early drafts for the third film included a teenage Kevin McAllister, but Culkin had already vanished from the face of acting at this point. As a result, Hughes and co. decided to, again, do the exact same thing as before, only this time with an entirely new cast of characters, thus lending more credence to Nietzche’s ‘eternal return’. Home Alone 2 proved – both in-film and at the box office – that lightning could indeed strike twice. Home Alone 3 proves, beyond a shadow of the doubt, you shouldn’t try to make it happen a third time.
This is a perfect example of how a formula can be stretched to its logical endpoint. The result is excruciating in every sense of the word. The charm is gone, along with the creativity, and Hughes is on auto-pilot, his script taking the core elements of the other films and ramping them up to the nth degree. The heightened reality of Harry and Marv’s death-defying pratfalls gives way to cartoonish buffoonery that wouldn’t look out of place in Looney Tunes. Though Home Alone as a whole is hardly indicative of social or anatomical fidelity, there was a satisfying weight to the punishment doled out by Kevin to his pursuers, a pained wince from the audience accompanying every brick to the skull.
The second film pushed this to its limits, but 3 goes further still, destroying the laws of physics and human endurance that hadn’t been previously breached. The four Euro-villains – none of whom have either the presence or the charisma of Harry and Marv – gurn, shriek and plummet to increasingly diminishing returns, anchored by Alex D. Linz’s chuckling little shit in the middle. They’re also, absurdly, career-criminals working for a North Korean terrorist group, so there’s that.
The soundtrack doesn’t help matters, its pizzicato strings and rimshots only accentuating how generic this whole enterprise is. While both its predecessors relied on a slow build to a vaudevillian explosion of physical comedy – including moments of legitimate menace from Harry and Marv while they scoped out Kevin’s neighbourhood – Home Alone 3 pitches its laughs to the furthest at the back, its exaggerations pitched so high and heavy that, when they inevitably fall flat on their face, they fall hard. Though Kevin was in control of the situation to an extent, there was always a sense of dread and peril for when something would go wrong. Linz’s Alex, meanwhile, employs almost god-like intuition and trap-making to foil his criminals, his glee at the havoc seeming less child-like and more terrifyingly omniscient.
The understandable (at least initially) negligence that propelled Catherine O’Hara’s Kate to abandon her child is similarly heightened in Haviland Morris’ Karen, who repeatedly leaves her chickenpox-ridden child alone in the house while she goes to work beneath a heartless (unseen) boss. Linz’s sociopathy and near-fourth-wall-breaking quips are also pitched to 11; while Linz is certainly enthusiastic and fresh-faced, his commitment soon becomes grating, though I daresay this is more the problem with Hughes’ meandering script. Raja Gosnell, replacing Chris Columbus, should have understood Home Alone better than most, having served as editor on both previous films. His directorial credits include Scooby-Doo, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and The Smurfs 2.
If this review is a little too rife with comparisons to the original(s), it only proves how lacklustre and tired Home Alone 3 truly is. It is entirely reliant on the tropes and narrative beats from its predecessors, offering nothing new to the central premise besides smothering it beyond recognition. Everything, from the humour to the scenario to the crowbarred Christmas-lite message, is forced, its fixed grin begging the audience to respond in kind. The only flicker of amusement I found when watching was the sight of a young Scarlett Johansson looking silently mortified. It was almost worth it. Almost.