The complete Home Alone retrospective: Home Alone 3

Macaulay Culkin was gone, Alex D Linz and Scarlett Johansson were in. Home Alone 3? Er, not many people's highpoint...

Spoilers lie ahead.

Readers, can you believe that Home Alone 2 – crappy though it was – did box office almost as high as the first? Sure you can, because you probably saw them both in the cinema. A third movie was inevitable.

But times change. By 1997, the world was no longer high off the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the freeing of Nelson Mandela, and Macaulay Culkin had quit the acting biz to become… whatever he became. The optimistic kids that dragged their parents to Home Alones 1 and 2 had become cynical, jaded teenagers uninteresting the continuing adventures of Kevin McCallister. What the franchise needed was a new hero. A new star. A new child star for America, and the world, to clasp to its collective bosom.

I think you probably know how this works out.

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Home Alone 3 (1997)

So apparently John Hughes goes through roofs like Ben Affleck goes through [libel removed], because Home Alone 3 marks his third (and final) return to the franchise. Sitting in the director’s chair is Raja Gosnell, the man who edited the first two movies, providing the barest minimum of visual continuity.

The story follows a completely new character: Alex Pruitt, a precocious young child with a penchant for electrical engineering and animal training. Already things are off to a bad start. And that’s before you realise that the rest of the premise involves four terrorists trying to steal a microchip that he’s inadvertently come into possession of.

You might think that Hughes’ presence would lend this project some credibility. You’d be wrong.

This film starts with a scene in Hong Kong where terrorists steal the experimental microchip (used for missile defence systems) then manage to lose it due to a mix-up at an airport. I don’t know what John Hughes thought he was writing, but it was apparently an episode of John Hughes’ 24. I’m sure in his mind he was deliberately avoiding any reprise of the last two films, but what he actually did was jettison a halfway-reliable formula for a pile of claptrap.

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There’s no polite way of putting this: it’s really bad. Like, terrible. The lead kid lacks the raw charisma of Macaulay Culkin. But then so do all of the adult actors in the film. The terrorist bad guys have zero personality (there are three men in the crew and by the end of the film I still couldn’t name or keep track of any of them). It’s fair to say that for the most part, the cast is not great.

The only time I was remotely interested in the film was when ScarJo turned up, very occasionally, as Alex’s older sister. Because you can’t help going “It’s her! ScarJo! When she was young!” though there was also a moment where Neil Flynn turned up and I was like “It’s him! The Janitor from Scrubs! When he was young!”. Sadly, that’s not a motif you can build a film upon and I suspect it had little to no value when the film was released, many years before anyone knew who Neil Flynn and ScarJo were.

The biggest problem is that it really drags. There’s an EXCRUCIATING sequence in the middle where Alex is chasing the terrorists with a remote controlled car and it lasts FOREVER. It’s not at all fun, it lacks the better qualities of the average Home Alone action sequence (i.e. inventive slapstick) and even this one doesn’t happen until about an hour in. The movie’s slower than an inbred sloth, and about as good-looking.

Things pick up once the home invasion section starts, but still manages to be broadly witless. It doesn’t help that a lot of the action involves a trained rat and a wise-cracking parrot. The terrorists are all carrying pistols but they only ever shoot them when they fall off things. The traps themselves are maybe as inventive as the first two movies, but a LOT more brutal. Forget Clueso-esque slapstick, there’s barely a booby-trap in this entire film that wouldn’t kill its victim outright. Where Kevin McCallister was an exuberant young boy with a heart of gold, Alex is basically a psychopath who has never learned the value of a human life. I’m pretty sure he grows up to be Jigsaw, from the popular Home Alone spin-off series, Saw.

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Bluntly, despite the relatively fast-paced brutality the final act delivers, there’s nothing in there that makes the previous hour and change worth sitting through. I can scarcely believe that this one got a theatrical release. Points for trying something new with the franchise, I guess, but I’d rather have seen a shitty imitation of the first movie this. Which is good, because that’s what all the other sequels are.

First kill: Most of the film is quite mild, but as soon as the home invasion sequence begins, we witness a double electrocution, followed by a chest of books being dropped on someone from a three-storey height, then a barbell to a head from the same height. Most of these guys would’ve be dead before they got anywhere near the doors. At one point one of Alex’s traps involves dropping an ACTIVATED lawnmower onto his prey. It only takes off the target’s hair, but that’s by accident rather than design. Kid makes Ted Bundy look like Al Bundy.

Gratuitous references to previous movies: Nothing too overt. You get people slipping on marbles and tumbling down stairs, but that’s about it. To be fair to Hughes, he was clearly trying something new.

Schmaltz level: Low. There’s a vague theme about how parents should listen to their children and Alex wins the respect of his douchebag siblings, but any film where a talking parrot looks at the breasts of a semi-naked woman and remarks “If those are real, I’m an eagle” is going to struggle to command any real emotion.

Tree decoration scene: Nope. I’m not even sure this is set at Christmas. It’s definitely winter, but that’s not enough at all. Someone should’ve called Shane Black to punch this sucker up.

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Number of times anyone is home alone in this movie: It happens several times, but notably, it’s DELIBERATE EVERY TIME. Alex has chicken pox so his parents keep leaving him at home while they run errands. It’s a miracle social services doesn’t get involved.

Genital injury motif: One of the indistinguishable male terrorists takes a boxing glove to the penis. Another takes a hockey stick to the groin. He responds by creaking out the words – and I quote: “you smacked my winkie”. I demand the late John Hughes’ resignation.