Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; slippery when festive. You and your intrepid team of reindeer, who may or may not be aerial yaks, have flown your sleigh past the mountains of good taste and crash-landed here on the island of misfit movies. Each week I will crank out one of these Charlie-in-the-boxes, pointing at its flaws and laughing like the meanest little bastard on the naughty list. But then, realizing how dangerously close I am to not getting any presents this year, due to the aforementioned bastardness, I will make a sappy speech in front of a glowing Christmas tree professing how much I loved this movie from the start. That cheap gesture should secure me that Chocolate-Covered French Fry Maker I’ve had my eye on. To put a bow on this whole affair, I will offer up a sugar-laden snack food item paired to the film that will constrict your arteries like Santa climbing down a cramped chimney.
This week’s flimsy gingerbread house: Home Alone 2.
Earlier this week, I pointed about some of the genuine flaws running rampant throughout the holiday classic Home Alone. I was dutifully informed, first via email and then by means of a flaming bag of what I assume was once pickled herring crashing through my living room window, that perhaps I was too harsh on this apparently “untouchable” film. I will concede that where I find fault with the film, others may find my finding fault with the film unfounded. So I wondered, how could I deconstruct the problems of Home Alone in such a way as to allow fans to remain objective? How can I review the exact same movie again without it being the exact same movie? Oh, I know, I’ll deconstruct Home Alone 2. After all, Home Alone 2 uses a cookie cutter formula identical to that of the first film, but with a lobotomized script that comparatively makes the script of Home Alone seem more layered than a Charlie Kaufman parfait.
What Makes It Bad?
So remember our discussion of how Home Alone took careful, exacting steps to tie up every loose end in terms of how Kevin gets left at home? The logic in Home Alone 2 is slightly less concerned with your acceptance of its logic from the get-go. The tumorous pieces of this crap puzzle fail to join in any discernible fashion. First, they try to pull that “parents slept in, everyone’s in a frenzied rush” card again, but in a fashion that shows their half-assery hand early. In the first installment, a wind storm knocks the power out for the whole house. It therefore makes sense that no one was roused by their electric alarms at the appropriate hour; thus the tizzy. But in the sequel, the power remains on and only the dimwitted McCallister parents’ alarm is disconnected. So why is that still not one person in the house got up on time? Did they all assume their game of Nyquil Pong was a safe venture because one alarm in the house was set? As they dash through the airport, Kevin lags behind searching for batteries in his father’s bag. Now given the fact that just one year before Kevin was put into a dangerous situation due to his family’s negligence, any reasonable parent would install a Lojack on their previously abandoned child or, at the very least, attach one of those super-not-humiliating-at-all kid leashes to him.
But no, Kevin stops for a moment, gets separated, and then proceeds to follow a man wearing his father’s same coat to the wrong terminal, then to the wrong gate. He thinks nothing of the fact that “his father” walks right down the ramp and doesn’t even glance back to ensure Kevin gets on the plane. Kevin plows into the ticket agent and loses his ticket in the scattering stack she was formerly holding. He assures her that his boarding pass is somewhere among the mess. She allows him to board SANS TICKET and then leaves him to end up in an alien city sans family. Forget the fact that Kevin’s “I’m In NYC” montage ends with him atop the World Trade Center, THIS is the real reason Home Alone 2 could not be replicated in a post-9/11 America. Well, that and the advent of cell phones; maybe that would have encouraged Kev to call and let ANYONE know where he was. But once again, as soon as Kevin realizes he’s separated from his parents, he immediately assumes he’s made them disappear. Nevermind the fact that you are obviously in New York, you’ve been through this same scenario before in which your squishy “magic powers” theory was debunked, and that YOU KNOW YOUR FAMILY IS IN FLORIDA, you go own believing that you are the David Copperfield of empty-headed sprat dolts.
So now the Swiss cheese exposition is behind us, let’s dig into the meat of the film; apparently in this metaphor Home Alone 2 is a tasty chicken cordon bleu. I guess we’re just going to go ahead and accept the fact that Kevin is not HOME alone in Home Alone 2: Lost Not At Home. I understand the necessity to retain the title for franchise recognizability (a word I’m almost completely sure I did not make up), but it seems to negate the central conceit. It would be like setting House Party 5 at Burning Man. Speaking of House Party, when Kevin reaches New York City, this KID don’t PLAY around. Despite the fact that he’s never been to NYC before, we don’t see him purchase a map until day 2 of his trip. Yet somehow, as soon as he steps off the plane he immediately knows the city and, presumably, the public transit system well enough to efficiently get from landmark to landmark in a few hours. Now granted, we do see him utilizing the New York City Montage Cab Co., but it still seems a bit of a stretch. And I’ve only been to New York once so forgive my ignorance, but is it really possible for a child to purchase a knife at a toy store? Kevin walks up to the counter with a NY map, a tube of Monster Soap (Charlize Theron’s bubble bath brand), and what looks to be a Swiss-made Leatherman. Apparently it was on the shelf between the Nerf balls and the Johnny Spaceman Surface-To-Air Missile Launcher. And I must say Kevin’s improvisation skills (read: super power to slow the passage of time) have greatly improved. He’s able to blow up a six foot inflatable clown (made by Nightmare Toys Incorporated), rig it to a complex, makeshift marionette system, and fill a bathtub in the time it takes one reprehensible concierge to creep from the suite’s front door, to the bathroom. Seriously, stop spending your dad’s money and go fight crime, you’re in New York, for Peter Parker’s sake!
The biggest logical fallacy of Home Alone 2 is once again to be found in the involvement of law enforcement. Whereas in the first film Child Protective Services could not be bothered with the triviality of protecting children, especially when there were donuts to be eaten, the Miami PD from whom the McCallisters seek help in Home Alone 2 follow procedure a little too well. Upon finding out that Kevin has his dad’s credit card, they decide to cancel the card. Wait, what? Why cancel the card? You know your son is alone in New York City, right? Do you not want him to have funds for food and a place to stay? Their concern for their son’s well-being apparently only extends to lengths that don’t dampen their credit score. When the McCallisters get to New York, Kevin’s mom, who somewhere between films found time to become a wholly unlikeable shrew, is actually indignant toward the staff of the Plaza Hotel for letting her child check in alone. Silence, Harpy! Would you have preferred they turn your son away; forcing him into vagrancy and doing things for money that even 2011 Macaulay Culkin would…have to seriously think twice before agreeing to do?
There is a complete tonal shift between original and sequel; the emotional crux of the story taking a bath in the black bile of human baseness. So in Home Alone, even at this most selfish, Kevin just wanted to be alone in his own house having his own Christmas. It’s a movie about the natural childhood conflict of independence vs. the need for family. This is why the film ends with a lighthearted, impish brother’s quarrel; Buzz shouting, “Kevin, what did you do to my room?” In Home Alone 2, the minute Kevin again achieves accidental autonomy (and apparently alliteration), his budding talent for the long con leaps immediately to the surface. He checks into the swankiest hotel in town using fake phone calls, his father’s credit card, and a story of epic flimflamery (still almost no way I made that word up). He runs up an enormous room service bill ordering indulgent junk food, which I realize is not for us to judge here; like the pot calling the kettle fat. He then uses another con to finagle himself a limousine and a, you guessed it, cheese pizza. So where Home Alone was about discovering the importance of familial bonds, Home Alone 2 is about excess, materialism, and identity theft. This actually explains why a chief piece of the film’s merchandising, the Talkboy, occupies a major plot point of the film itself. The sequel’s insipid emphasis on the greed and the consumerism of Christmas made me feel like I was watching Jingle All The Way 2: Lost In Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.
In last week’s entry, we (meaning me) talked (wait, me talked?–Tarzan?) about the fact that the Wet Bandits probably would not have survived some of the traps Kevin set for them in Home Alone. If there was a slight chance that Kev could have accidentally brought about their demise in part one, his sole intent in the sequel is to reek savage murder upon his enemies so brutally as to serve as a warning to any who might cross him in the future. There’s not even any build up to deadly intent either. Kevin’s first, and arguably least innovative trap is simply hurling bricks down onto Marv’s head from atop a three story building. Even if you are a card-carrying member of The Royal Order of Home Alone 2 Apologists and want to argue that it isn’t outside the realm of possibility for a man to survive one three-story brick-to-the-head, Kevin lands four to Marv’s skull. Unless Marv is actually living tissue over a metal exoskeleton, and was sent back in time to kill Kevin before he grew into the future leader of the human resistance, he would be a grease spot on that sidewalk. The bricks are just for openers, then we have the electrocution, 100 lb. objects dropped from three stories onto skulls, and the full on cranial combustion. Pesci and Stern survive so many events that would pulverize an actual human being that the film begins to adopt the physical laws of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon; replete with pseudo sentient lit fuse gag. This is a much healthier assessment of what’s happening than the far more painfully obvious scenario that Kevin is a vengeful, tow-headed angel of death.
Why I Love It?
As much as I have a big gooey, spongy soft spot for Home Alone, I have an even bigger, gooier, spongier soft spot for the sequel. When it came out, I was just at the right age that new movies in the theater were still wonderful spectacles of dream-like proportions. I remember going to see Home Alone 2: Lost In New York with my childhood friend Paul and coming out giggling like a couple of little girls over the various misfortunes that befell the bandits; something I now suspect is in the DSM-IV as a potential early warning sign for sociopathy. I also had a Home Alone 2 poster in my room as a kid, the one with the Statue of Liberty locked in Kevin’s signature pose, and by “signature” I mean “stolen from Edvard Munch.” So, like many of the films that earn entry into the Junkfood Cinema archives, nostalgia plays a major role in my appreciation for this film. I was also the victim of a terrible, fiery View-Master accident as a child that caused my rose-colored glasses to be permanently affixed to my face.
I don’t care how you feel toward the rest of the film, because clearly I am no longer the barometer of good taste, you’ve got to love Tim Curry in Home Alone 2. He brings that same brand of slimy, conniving, slightly closeted, charm to the role of the Plaza Hotel’s most evil, and curious-as-a-cartoon-chimp, concierge. You’ve got to admire his misplaced tenacity as he sneaks into a guest’s room just because he thinks a child is guilty of credit card fraud. This is almost as incendiary and hard to swallow as the fact that, well, a child commits credit card fraud in this film. I love the transition, as Kevin watches the holiday classic from his (sigh) limo, from the the Grinch’s impossibly wide grin to Tim Curry’s…equally wide, supposedly human grin.
We don’t watch Home Alone movies for their deep, philosophical deconstruction of the human condition, nor do we watch them for their dialogue…which becomes seared in our brains like brands upon cattle. We watch the Home Alones for the traps. The disquieting thing about this commonality is that it is also the reason we watch Saw movies and the second act of First Blood. But in spite of these films implanting the seed of inventive homicide in our adolescent brains, ignoring the appeal of the traps in Home Alone would be like denying that people watch auto races for the crashes, hockey for the fights, or professional basketball for…the fights. As someone who grew up to be a horror fan, I love that the traps are far more brutal in Home Alone 2. It really does abandon all delusions of being taken seriously the moment Daniel Stern gets brick-kissed on his forehead. To his credit, Stern’s desperate moaning, flailing, and falsettoing illicit genuine laughs from me to this day. In fact both Stern and Pesci seem to be inhabiting the Three (Two?) Stooges with their intensely overblown physical performances. And true to his character, and his raging rage issues of rage, Pesci returns to his litany of pseudo swears all throughout the film; often calling Kevin a “fargin’ fricka’ fatchadul”…even to his face!
I also love that Kevin is, what, nine years old and he already has mortal nemeses? I mean their feud has reached the point where the Bandits talk casually about, and even attempt to, kill a child! Weren’t you guys just burglars in the last film? This may account for why it’s so much fun to watch these two get their faces trounced and their insides scrambled by Kev’s various do-it-yourself torture devices. Basically this is a revenge movie wherein the revenger is subjected to revenge from the revengee. Mock its simple family film trappings and its porous plot if you must, which I did because I musted, but this is actually the Inception of revenge films. The Talkboy is actually Kevin’s totem! Also, I’m drunk!
Junkfood Pairing: Fruit Stripe Gum
Delicious Fruit Stripe Gum is delicious. It is so good that apparently it is also a system of currency. Kevin offers the bellboy at the hotel Fruit Stripe Gum as gratuity; the bellboy played by Rob Schneider in a remarkably prescient nod to the new career to which this “career” was leading him, pieces of. This seems really cute and innocent until later in the film when he tricks the bellboy into declining a sizable cash tip in order to torment him. He’s in New York, right? Can we go occupy (read: ransack and steal from) this little shit’s hotel room? The original title of this 1%-minded sequel was Home Alone: With All This Goddamn Money, Bitches.