The complete Home Alone retrospective: Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

Er, a Home Alone film that won't even call itself Home Alone 5? This doesn't bode well - does it?

Spoilers lie ahead.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Home Alone 4 was the pitiful last gasp of once-majestic franchise. But time heals all wounds, including (apparently) fatal ones. Ten years after Home Alone 4, someone willed the series back to life. And this time they were determined not to squander the lingering goodwill that anyone might feel for the series.

The good news is that, over 20 years since the original was made, many of the kids who watched Home Alone now have kids of their own. And do you know what Gen Y adults like? Anything they remember from their childhoods. So it is that in the wake of Transformers, GI Joe and My Little Pony, we find ourselves the audience for a new Home Alone.

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist (2012)

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The fifth and thus far final instalment of the Home Alone franchise jettisons the numbering system outright, presumably to dispel any notion that you might have to watch Home Alone 4 before this one. Like Home Alone 3, it also dispenses with the McCallisters in favour of a new family: the Baxters. So it is that 10-year-old Finn, his older sister Alexis and their parents Curtis and Catherine come to move from California to Maine into a house that may or may not contain a lost Edvard Munch painting worth millions. Yes, that’s right. Edvard Munch. Home Alone has gone highbrow.

Of course, while the Baxters don’t realise that they’re sitting on a gold mine, a trio of criminals does. Hughes (a straight-to-video Snoop Dogg), Jessica (middle-aged Black Widow) and Sinclair (actual Malcolm McDowell) have plans to burgle the place as part of the titular Holiday Heist. McDowell is the ringleader and he’s very keen on getting a copy, because time is the fire in which he burns. The three arrange to break into the house while the family is supposed to be at a Christmas party, but only the parents go, leaving the crooks to contend with the kids in classic Home Alone fashion. No prizes for guessing how it turns out.

There are heavy implications early on that the house might be haunted, and it’s a running theme throughout the movie that ghosts are causing stuff to happen. I was fascinated by the implications this could have for the Hone Alone Cinematic Universe. Would they take a step into the supernatural by showing an actual ghost? As it turns out, no. The only ghost haunting this franchise is the ghost of Malcolm McDowell’s credibility.

But the strangest thing happened, readers. Maybe it was the sheer awfulness of Home Alone 4 throwing even basic competence into sharp relief. Maybe it was the strain of watching multiple Home Alone movies in such a short period of time. Or maybe it was the last remnants of the Sudafed overdose I accidentally took a few days earlier. But as I watched this film, I came to realise that it was actually… quite good. It’s not like it’s Kurosawa, but it has characters. It has jokes. It has META jokes, like what 22 Jump Street invented. I properly laughed at bits of it in ways that I didn’t laugh at any of the others (at least, as a grown adult man).

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My theory for this is that it seems to be the first of the film that’s got one eye on entertaining its adult audience too. It’s not like it’s Pixar-level stuff, but there are callbacks to the original movie that assume familiarity with its plot and structure, rather than simply replicating the basic imagery. There’s also a console-gaming, college-age manchild imported from Seth Rogen’s catalogue who gives it some much-needed millennial appeal. It’s convincingly all-ages, unlike the braindead third and fourth movies, and maybe even more so than the first two. My wife, who never saw the Home Alone movies as a child, declared it her favourite.

On just about every level, it’s reaching comfortably beyond the necessary minimum. The direction has some artful qualities. The script is well-written. The cast is surprisingly credible (Him out of My Name Is Earl! Her out of Twilight: Eclipse! Actual Malcolm McDowell!). The ending even manages to dredge up some genuine emotion without having to beg for it. In short, if you’re only going to watch one of the Home Alone sequels, it should probably be this one. It seems to have been made by people who actually gave a shit. And that instantly puts it above about 60% of all movies.

First kill: NONE! Basically every trap in this film is fundamentally non-fatal. Actually, if there’s anything you can truly criticise, it’s that the traps aren’t that great. Lots of people doing pratfalls and getting stuck in windows, but not a single instance of electrocution, extreme temperatures or severe stab wounds. PC gone mad, is what it is.

Gratuitous references: Oh, there are loads. But here, they’re used to good effect. Here’s a joke spoiler: in a sequence where the kids run riot while their parents are gone, we see Finn messing around in the bathroom. Inevitably, he reprises that scene from Home Alone. THE scene. He’s topless in front of a mirror, miming to songs. He’s testing out the bathroom products. We know exactly what’s coming. He gets out the aftershave. Nudge nudge, audience, the direction seems to say. He slaps it on his cheeks. Here we go. His hands stay in place, his face freezes for a moment, and… it cuts away to the next thing. I laughed so hard I nearly choked. If you’re going to reference the previous films, THAT is how you do it.

Schmaltz level: Low. There’s some stuff about how the kids would rather play on their phones/games console than interact with other humans and by the end of the film they’ve learned the value of human interaction (ugh) but in general it resists overdoing it. Plus people are constantly talking about ghosts and stuff, so it’s hard to feel too involved.

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Tree decoration scene: Present. Unremarkable.

Number of times anyone is home alone in this movie: ZIP. NADA. NÜL. Finn and Alexis are both there the whole time, though there is a small amount of time where Finn thinks he’s home alone. A reasonably large oversight in an otherwise solid movie.

Genital injury motif: Jessica manages to accidentally kick both Hughes and Malcolm McDowell in the testicles within about three seconds of one another. You practically can see McDowell thinking ‘I worked with Kubrick.’ as his knees crumble.

So like many a crooked massage parlour, this attempt to watch all five Home Alone movies had an unexpected happy ending. Home Alone 5 may not be the best of the bunch (you have to admit that the original is a classic) but it may actually be worthy of the name, and I don’t feel cheated out of the 99p I spent renting it. Certainly, it was far better than I expected a Home Alone sequel to be, and maybe that’s the first step towards recovery for the franchise.

Of course, having watched the complete works, I now feel uniquely equipped to write Home Alone 6, so if any studio head out there is reading this, I’m already prepping a script in which a Christmas tree is decorated, a kid uses dialogue from fictional gangster movie to humiliate a postman, and someone receives a bowling ball in the crotch. Have your people call my people.

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