There are films that are so bad they're good. Then, there are films that are just plain bad.
Home Sweet Home Alone is just plain excruciatingly bad.
The ingredients for a mighty fine, if mighty familiar, film are here.
We have Archie Yates, who was so exceptional in Taika Waititi's JoJo Rabbit, as Max Mercer, the kid left home alone who inevitably has to defend said home against the obligatory intruders.
We have the always delightful and funny Ellie Kemper as one-half of that intruding team, in this case husband-and-wife Pam (Kemper) and Jeff (Rob Delaney), a down-on-their-luck couple who end up being far more sympathetic than Max and who are inexplicably given the vast majority of the plot narrative.
We have Kenan Thompson here as a realtor. Thompson's entire being screams out "I'm dying to be funny here." He's never funny.
In other words, we have a cast completely capable of turning Home Sweet Home Alone into something special.
Instead, Home Sweet Home Alone is one of the worst films of 2021.
Compared to Yates's performance here, Macaulay Culkin deserved an Oscar.
Okay, maybe just an Oscar nomination. You get my point.
The storyline here is similar yet incredibly different. Pam and Jeff are a seemingly happily married couple living slightly above their means and facing financial disaster after Jeff loses his IT job right before the holidays. The week before Christmas, they host an open house in an effort to sell their home before their kids find out that everything's falling apart. When a sentimental yet valuable doll goes missing after the open house that Max and his mother attended, Jeff assumes that Max must've taken it and sets out to retrieve what is rightfully his.
You know the drill. Through a variety of circumstnaces, Max is left alone for Christmas while his mother goes to Tokyo and after an evening of unabashed joy at his time alone begins to realize maybe life with his family isn't so bad.
Then, Pam and Jeff show up.
There isn't a likable character to be found here.
Max is an irritating little brat, a a cringeworthy and annoying sort who is so intrusive and ill-mannered that you can't help but think his mother's trip to Tokyo was actually a good idea. While Yates is a talented young actor, he's woefully miscast here and lacks anything resembling the lunacy or the sweetness that made Culkin such a delightful choice in the original Home Alone. There's never a single moment when Max is an engaging lad and there's nary an ounce of sincerity to be found in Yates's performance.
While I admire Kemper's willingness to play against her usual type, it goes abysmally here with material that never begins to reach the heights of Kemper's comic potential. Kemper's at her best toward film's end as the conflict begins to unravel, unconvincingly, and truths begin to be told. There were a couple of times toward film's end where I found myself saying "Why couldn't we have seen this Kemper the entire time?"
Alas, we don't.
Rob Delaney is mismatched with Kemper as her more bark than bite husband Jeff. While he's certainly no Joe Pesci, or Daniel Stern, Delaney isn't tasked with much more than being subjected to Max's relentless attacks and for the most part he pulls that off just fine.
The original Home Alone was a true family motion picture, the hijinks were over the top but family friendly and there was an aura of sentimentality that ran throughout the film. Home Sweet Home Alone, on the other hand, is devoid of sentimentality and devoid of anyone to root for or even care about. Pam and Jeff are easily the most identifiable characters and their dilemma is identifiable - especially in a pandemic world where so many have lost their jobs and their homes. Nearly everything that unfolds between our adversaries is ill-conceived and unnecessary as there's never really a point where Pam and Jeff present as anything close to threatening toward Max.
While I'd love to think it's intentional to make Max the menacing one, the simple truth is that Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell's script simply falls short in just about every way possible.
There's a tip o' the hat to the McAllister name to be found here. One can't help but wish there was more of McAllister's present throughout the film's 93-minute running time that feels like much longer.
The most disappointing films are those films where you watch them thinking to yourself "This could have been a much better film." Indeed, Home Sweet Home Alone could have been a much better film. There's not much more painful than watching a talented cast flounder but that's exactly what happens here as Archie Yates is simply incapable of carrying the film and Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney collapse under the weight of poorly drawn characters, an inept storyline, comedy without laughs, and characters who simply don't matter.
Easily one of the worst films of 2021, Home Sweet Home Alone is a lazy return to a once popular franchise and a strong indication that the only thing worse than getting another fruitcake for Christmas is being stuck home alone with Max Mercer.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic