On the Second Day of Die Hard, My True Love Gave To Me...
A Pipe to the Face
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
In 1990 Home Alone was a smash hit. There is no other way to put it. It was released on November 26 of that year, made for $18 Mil, and it went on to make $476.7 Mil at the Box Office, not to mention the money made from home video, licensing right, streaming rights, and everything else over the years. It was a monster. No film like that can go without a sequel, since Hollywood does love it's guaranteed moneymakers. And so, two years later, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was released, and audiences once again flocked to the film.
Look, the things that worked about Home Alone still work in the sequel. Macaulay Culkin was a charismatic little star at the time, the direction and production values were solid, and the score was John Williams feels like the perfect accompaniment to the holidays. That formula carries over and makes Home Alone 2 still very watchable. But everything else about this film feels completely and utterly empty. Even bankrupt. This is a sequel for sequel's sake, without any other reason to actually exist.
The film picks up one year after the original (even as Kevin is now 10 in this film what he was 8 in the previous movie). When Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is picked on by his big, older brother Buzz (Devin Ratray) during a performance at a Christmas pageant, Kevin lashes back, ruining the whole celebration. His family is upset, Buzz gives an empty apology they all believe, but Kevin stands his ground. And so he ends up back in the attic right before another big holiday trip with the family. And, wouldn't you know it, the alarm doesn't go off once more and the whole family has to rush to the airport to just make their flight.
Thankfully Kevin is prepared this time and is already in the vans when they drive off. But he does get misplaced at the airport and he ends up on the wrong flight, taking him to New York while his family is in Florida. So why they all try to figure out where he is and how to get to him, Kevin lives it up in NYC, staying at the plaza, ordering a bunch of expensive room service, and enjoying life. But when he finds out that Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) are back, and are planning to rob a charity box at a massive toy store, Kevin steps in. He lures them to a house and takes them through the ringer once more. It's the kid against the crooks for another Christmas caper.
The issue with Home Alone 2 becomes apparent from the second the film plays: it's not a sequel to the first film, it's just the first film all over again. You'll find plenty of sequels that aren't really sure how to continue the story, so they rely on a lot of the same story beats. Hell, Die Hard 2: Die Harder feels like a retread of the first Die Hard. But Home Alone 2 feels like a carbon copy of the original movie. If it were a drawing, I'd call it an out right retrace.
Let's consider the plot points: Kevin gets in trouble after Buzz picks on him. He's sent to the attic as punishment. He is then somehow misplaced during the family trip. He relishes in the freedom and gets to go have fun while everyone else is stuck trying to get back to him. He befriends and older person that original scared him. He sees the Bandits and begins to suspect they're up to no good. He then takes of a building and lays a whole series of traps for the burglars. Then, right before the bad guys can kill him, he's saved by his older friend. His family finds them, there is much rejoicing... and then, as a stinger, there's one little thing he did that angers someone in his family, and they hell at him to start the trouble all over again.
If I withhold certain details, like setting, or the name of the old person Kevin befriends, you wouldn't be able to tell me which film that applies to. That's because they're the same film. All the same beats, all the same ideas. It was clear that John Hughes, writer of both films, put the least amount of effort into making this sequel, simply going with all the moments of the first film people liked and doing it again. As they say in 22 Jump Street: "it's the same case, do the same thing!" And so they did.
Now, the thing is that a carbon copy of a film can still find its moments. There are ways that a movie like this could work if, even as it goes through the motions of the original film, it inserts new jokes, or some new ideas, or something. Die Hard 2, for all its retreading of ideas, does manage to create some new situations, some new jokes, and some new fun. But there are no new ideas in Home Alone 2; it's just the same film all over again, with less humor, less ideas, and more violence. So much more.
One could argue about whether the robbers, Marv and Harry, would have died in the first film. The paint cans to the face might have killed them, but the rest of the traps are just kind enough that, while horribly injured, they would have survived. It maintains the sweetness at the core of the film. Home Alone 2 doesn't have that. There are easily for death traps -- bricks thrown at Marv's skull from three stories up, electrocution, flammable liquids, and heavy pipes to the face -- that would have killed the two. Were this a normal R-rated action flick and not a kid-friendly sequel, we'd have a body count of five to deal with here. Marv should have died three times at least. Harry twice. And the film just plays it off as cartoonish violence. Even when I was 11 and the perfect age for this film I thought, "man, those dudes should be dead by now."
In fact I'd go so far as to say there is only one truly good thing about this movie: Tim Curry, playing the concierge of the Plaza Hotel. Curry brings such life and slimy delight to his underwritten role, and he sells every second of it. In a film packed with people, Curry is the one person that shines bright. Like, going back and thinking about this movie over the years, the only thing I really remembered about it (aside from how many times Marv and Harry should have died) was Tim Curry. He's a god damned treasure.
Ruining it is Donald Trump. He's only in for a few seconds in one cameo (to sell us on the idea that, yes, this really takes place in New York), but it's a terrible collection of seconds. Oddly it comes right around the same time Kevin visits the World Trade Center (that one that no longer exists), and you realize, "holy shit, this movie is from another era." It makes the film feel old. Aged. The original movie has a timeless quality to it that allows it to work even all these decades later. But the sequel very much feels like its trapped in amber. Not a timeless classic at all.
So it's this case where the first film of the series does hold up. If you enjoyed it as a kid you probably still delight in its many grand moments. But this sequel struggles to justify its own existence. It wasn't really necessary then (even if it did make $370 Mil at the Box Office), and it's hardly required watching now. But hey, I bet it's still better than all the sequels to come after...