On the Fourth Day of Die Hard, My True Love Gave To Me...
The Tiredest Direct Sequel
Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House
While studios absolutely thought people wanted more of the Home Alone series after the first two films (each which made more money than they had any right to), there is no doubt that the series was running out of steam. Creatively the third movie had little more to say over the first two, and even started borrowing more heavily from the 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. franchise that spawned it. "Let's make a Die Hard, but for kids!" was never so literal as then. And audiences didn't show up. So what was next.
Enter Home Alone 4 (aka "Taking Back the House", a subtitle that makes absolutely no sense in context of the story). This was the first one the franchise's films to head direct to video (and it wouldn't be the last as that's where the series has lived ever since). And it's also the worst we've experienced so far on this long, tragic dive. It was so bad that despite planing to write the reviews over my holiday break i found myself defeated by this sad, tragic, half-assed worked and didn't even want to think about writing anything Home Alone-related again. And yet here we are, to continue the suffering as this series dives head first off a cliff.
This fourth film ignores Alex and his family from the third adventure, going back to Kevin McCallister and his (now surprisingly smaller) family. Kevin's mom and dad are going through a divorce and the precocious nine-year-old (having lost a year off his age since the last time we saw him) doesn't want to be stuck at home with Buzz, who will torture him, even though Kevin want nothing more than to be with his mom. With an open invite from his dad to come visit, meet the new girlfriend, and spend Christmas together, Kevin hops a taxi on his own and breezes off to, as he quickly learns, a lap of luxury.
Daddy's girlfriend is loaded, and quickly Kevin is smothered with a metric ton of toys and gifts. But there's also a snag: two criminals, Marv and his new wife, want nothing more than to come and rob the joint. Specifically they are there to kidnap a young prince (who is supposed to be arriving at Christmas) so they can hold the royal for ransom. With a little luck, and a bit of creativity, Kevin might just be able to out smart Marv for a third time and once again defeat a group of robbers at Christmas. Sadly, for the rest of us, the only lucky thing would have been never watching this movie at all.
Let's be clear: Home Alone 4 (by any name) has a lot of problems. The first and foremost is that the story has absolutely no weight to it. Kevin wants his mom and dad to get back together despite them getting a divorce. We're supposed to take it at face value that the two of them are going through problems and had to divorce, this despite barely ever seeing them interact in the first two films (outside of cracking a few jokes together) and never having it illustrated in this movie just what said problems would be. It's the kind of idea of divorce that only makes sense to little kids, just so Kevin can wish that the parents would get back together.
As for Kevin's dad and his new girlfriend, well, here's the relationship where actually chemistry comes into play. Dad really seems to like his new girlfriend, they have a deep connection he never shows with his wife, and you can almost understand how they ended up together. Yes, she's high strung and a bit possessive, but when you're watching this film and you get the vibe that Kevin would love nothing more than for dad to dump the new hottie and go back to the mom, it's no wonder why the new girl acts possessive and a little jealous. And bear in mind she does her best to try and work Kevin into her live, and she does spoil in him rotten. It seems like the movie just hates her because she's the new girl and, thus, she has to lose somehow.
Oh, and the film hates her because she's rich. Which... come on. The opulent wealth on display in the first two films shows that Kevin's family is pretty freaking wealthy, too. This is like the pot calling the kettle black, and the film doesn't acknowledge it at all. It frankly would have been better if the film hadn't tried to make any connection to the first two movies, and just treated this whole adventure like it was happening to all new characters. They're all new actors, playing roles that in no way resemble the original roles. Why even bother making the connection at all?
Well, I guess it was so they could bring back Marv and give him another scrape with Kevin. But even here this is dumb since he's also played by a new character and doesn't act like Marv at all. Without Harry to back him up, Marv here is just an idiot... more so than we've seen before. The film introduces new characters from him to work with, such as his new wife, but they're all just idiots. I supposed that's how you can justify a nine-year-old actually beating them, they have to be idiots. But that doesn't make these characters at all interesting to watch.
Predicating the plot on a kidnapping doesn't really do the story any favors, either. Because the royal has to show up, and that takes days to happen in story, the threat of the criminals never feels immediate. In each of the previous films the criminals were there, actively hunting to loot or going after a specific prize. But here, we get days of them just... waiting. It saps the energy from the caper and keeps everything feeling listless. The criminals show up, bumble around, and then leave again, but we know they'll be back not only because eventually they have to try for their caper but also because the big "Home Alone Climax" has to happen.
On that front, this is the most lackluster climactic finish of any of the movies yet. Marv and his accomplices are dealt with quicker and easier than in any of the previous films so far. The actual climax can't be more than five minutes, lazily paced and tedious to watch. That doesn't stop the film from putting Marv in a trap in such a way tat he should have died at least twice from it. Accidental homicide is still the order of the day even if budget, creativity, and interesting trap designs were not.
Look, I get it: the studio had a brand name and they wanted to try and leech a little more money out of kids (and their families) with a direct to video sequel to a beloved property. Presumably it worked just well enough because they even made a fifth one of these in short order. But when it comes to actually wanting to watch any of these, I feel like we've already hit rock bottom for this franchise... or I would, if I hadn't already hear how bad the next entries can actually get. What a joy. Perhaps this franchise should have stopped with three films. Or, ideally, just one.