On the Third Day of Die Hard, My True Love Gave To Me...
A North Korean Tech Heist
Home Alone 3
Out side of the fact that both Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York made obscene gobs of money (although, in the case of the sequel, there were noticeable diminishing returns), there was no no reason for the series to continue. Hell, the sequel was so bereft of ideas that the best creators Chris Columbus and John Hughes could come up with was, "what if the first movie but in New York?" These films didn't really need to continue past the first film. And yet they did.
When I was working my first stint at Blockbuster Video (which shows my age now), I was around for when Home Alone 3 came to home video. I saw the first two films in the theater as they were family events and everyone I knew went to see them. But the third movie came and went from theaters and quickly made its way to home video. It had a decent section on the wall, where all the New Releases went for a time, but it quickly fell off there. Audiences didn't seem to find the third go round for this series all that compelling and, for my part, I avoided it altogether. A shameless cash in of the brand that didn't even feature the original character? Why even bother. My opinion was the general opinion for most video watchers and the film became little more than a footnote; the last time that a Hone Alone film would have a big release and actually make it into theaters.
But did this third film deserve that fate? I'm not going to try and say the film is a lost classic somehow; it is deeply flawed in many ways, spoiling a lot of the good will it somehow manages to build early on. But the film does have its charms and, above all, by changing its characters, setting, and storyline (no more Wet and/or Stick Bandits), the film actually does manage to introduce a number of new ideas. Had this been the first sequel, instead of Lost in New York, just maybe people would have liked the series a lot more at this point.
This film ditches Kevin McCallister for Alex Pruitt (Alex D. Linz). Alex ends up with a remote controlled car from his nasty neighbor, Mrs. Hess (Marian Seldes), for shoveling her snow-covered driveway. She was supposed to pay him for the task, but dumped the car on him instead when she accidentally ended up with it due to a mix up at the airport. However, what she, and Alex, don't realize is that the car actually has a special chip in it, one stolen from the U.S. Air Force, and the ones that stole it want it back.
Enter that gang of criminals -- Olek Krupa as Peter Beaupre, Rya Kihlstedt as Alice Ribbons, Lenny Von Dohlen as Burton Jernigan, and David Thornton as Earl Unger -- who know that the car ended up in the Chicago suburb where Alex lives, they just don't know which house. Alex quickly realizes there are bad guys in the neighborhood and starts trying to tell anyone -- his parents, the cops, the government -- about it. But when no one believes him, Alex takes matters into his own hands. He sets up his house into a booby-trapped labyrinth and then lures the bad guys in. It's one kid against a gang of experienced, international criminals for the fate of the U.S. Government's secrets.
I equate the Home Alone films to kid-friendly Die HardThe 1980s were famous for the bombastic action films released during the decade. Featuring big burly men fighting other big burly men, often with more guns, bombs, and explosions than appear in Michael Bay's wildest dreams, the action films of the decade were heavy on spectacle, short on realism. And then came a little film called Die Hard that flipped the entire action genre on its head. films because there's some obvious parallels you can see. One guy, against a gang of criminals, having to defend himself while laying tricks and traps to take them all out. That connection feels even stronger in this third film with the story upping the number of bad guys while also introducing a thread of high-valued crime and international politics. If this film kept the whole storyline setup but swapped Alex for John McClain, I could actually see this working as a Die Hard film. Just with more killing.
Not that the criminals should have survived this movie. Each of them has at least one moment where one of the traps Alex lays -- two different electrocutions, one steep fall four stories down, a dog house laced with explosives -- should have killed them. The violence is cartoony, just like it was in the previous film, with these movies abandoning any sense of reality for the sake of silly violence, but that doesn't change the fact that Alex should be a murderer four times over. At least, frankly.
This is something that, so far, all the sequels have failed to realize about the original: the fun of that movie came as much from watching a kid on his own, finding ways to take care of himself against all odds. The sequels, though, treat the protagonists like they more capable than anyone else. Alex is an eight-year-old with more skills, knowledge, and intelligence than any of the adults in the film. He talks like an adult, handles himself like one as well, and can easily out-smart everyone. We're no longer watching a film about a kid working against all odds but a skilled killer planning out a series of premeditated murders. It just doesn't hit the same.
The thing is, though, that the first two acts of the film actually aren't bad. While Linz lacks the natural charisma of Culkin, the story built around his character actually does work. The film sets stakes early, introducing the criminals and telling us about their stolen tech. The setup is tightly plotted and moves quickly, and even as the criminals have to settle into Chicago to find the chip and we get the introduction of Alex and his family, the movie is still able to breeze along. I think the film is smartly setup to give us an adventure that works without making us miss the McCallisters at all.
Where the film loses steam is, frankly, in the actual cartoon violence that everyone expects from the series. The entire last act is the criminals versus Alex, and it just doesn't work, at all. The criminals go from skilled masterminds to brainless idiots once they come face to face with Alex, and from that point forward the film goes through the rote motions and sending them through Alex's death traps. There were skilled, knowledgeable, cautious, and prepared. And then an eight-year-old is able to beat them all, and it feels so... tired. Once the actual "Home Alone Action" starts up, you just get bored.
I think the film needed to cut down on the silliness of the violence. It goes so broad, and so dumb, that there's no fun to be had. If the traps could have been as tightly plotted as in the first film, and if the climactic sequence could have been kept to ten minutes instead of taking up the whole last act, then it might have felt like it all moved faster and worked better. What we have is a climax where, once we reach it, all the energy and joy is sucked out of the film. Like an anti-climax, in effect.
And yes, Linz is not great in this role. He's fine for a child actor, but he lacks that needed spark that could make the violent little sociopath work. Culkin could sell it so well in the first film and Linz just feels like he's trying to copy the work of someone else. But then, director Raja Gosnell really didn't seem to know how to get good performances out of any of his actors. Everyone acts a little too broad, a little too silly. Hell, Scarlett Johansson is in this and she's just terrible. One of our current A-List stars delivering a terrible performance early in her career. I blame the director for that.
There are great ideas in this film betrayed by a need to go big and broad and dumb in the last act, and I have to think that's the fault of the director. He just didn't have the chops to make this silly bit of kid-fluff work right. Linz is no Culkin but with a better last act, and better direction, his character could have been carried across the finish line. Instead Alex, and his adventure, were consigned to the dust bin of this series because Home Alone 3 just could close the deal the way it needed to.