Ah, Christmastime. A season of love and laughter, of good food and stockings by the chimney and caroling and wanton violence, and—
What’s that you say? Wanton violence isn’t part of your Christmas season? Not unless Uncle Edgar has too much eggnog? Clearly, you live in a different neighborhood than 10-year-old Max Mercer.
Max and his mother, Carol, just moved from Britain to a well-to-do, if nondescript, American neighborhood where it snows. One day, Carol and Max drive through another well-to-do, if nondescript, neighborhood (or perhaps a section of the same neighborhood—they really are nondescript) when Max has a sudden need to use the facilities. Thankfully, Carol spies a real-estate agent’s open house and tells Max to pretend that they’re house shopping.
Pam and Jeff Fritzovski own said open house, even though they don’t really want to sell the place. Alas, they must: Jeff built his career around data migration, which (since the cloud takes care of most data migration these days) just isn’t quite the plum gig it used to be. But—and this is perhaps the first clue that Jeff and Pam’s parenting isn’t all that it could be—they’re selling their house in secret. They’re keeping the whole plan from their two kids for now, explaining away the ever-present real estate agent as a personal trainer.
When Max steps out of the bathroom, he runs into Jeff, calls him Frankenstein and makes fun of him for owning dolls.
It’s Frankenstein’s monster, Jeff corrects, and those aren’t his dolls. He inherited the creepy little porcelain things. And, oh yeah, some of them might be worth a little bit of money.
And so the movie might’ve ended right there.
But later that evening, Jeff discovers that one of the dolls—a little boy doll with his head plastered on upside-down—is indeed worth a little bit of money. A cool 200 grand little, in fact. Why, that’d be enough to pay off the house and ensure the family would never, ever have to move!
But the doll has gone missing. Clearly, Max must’ve taken it! Because he had a telltale lump in his coat pocket!
Meanwhile, back at the Mercer household, Carol, Max and about 16 gazillion relations are set to jet to Japan, everyone’s ideal Christmas destination. Alas, the family has been split up into two different flights, which makes keeping track of who’s on what flight difficult. Double alas, Max falls asleep in the family BMW and awakes to find everyone gone.
He spends a bit of time doing what many 10-year-olds might do if left in a gigantic house all alone: eating candy, surfing down the stairs, trying to hack his dad’s computer to find naughty sites. But soon, he spies Pam and Jeff sliding down the road toward his house, clearly up to no good. He overhears them talking about how they want to grab that “ugly little boy,” who’s worth $200,000 to the right elderly buyer.
Clearly, Jeff and Pam are up to no good. And clearly, the whole situation demands just one thing: wanton violence.
Merry Christmas, everyone! Let’s shed a little blood!
Jeff and Pam obviously don’t want to hurt anyone. They just want to talk with Max (as they repeatedly tell him as the boy pelts them with billiard balls and spiked Nerf darts) and find their doll. They only want to save their home, and they know that this doll—that, you’ll recall, they rightfully own—is the conduit to keeping it. But as Pam says later, maybe the house isn’t such a big deal. “I guess home is another word for family,” she adds.
Another word for family—at least in these movies—is contrived irresponsibility. (I guess that’s two words.) But to her credit, Carol feels very bad when she realizes she left her son at home alone. She hitches the first flight she can out of Japan, and that can’t be cheap.
Jeff and Pam, their kids and some out-of-town family members go to a Catholic service on Christmas. “It’s the day that everybody goes to church, right?” says Gavin, their real-estate agent/personal instructor, as he suddenly shows up.
Max goes to the same church, wistfully looking at the Nativity family outside. He spies some toys on a table and takes one before he’s told that they’re for “children less fortunate than you.” But when he lets slip that both of his parents are “gone” and that he’s essentially on his own, the kindly woman gives him a large Nerf weapon. “Wow, I need to come to church more often,” Max says as he makes his way back home.
We hear some Christmas carols, one or two of which have religious content in them. We hear someone advise Carol to “activate the prayer chain.” We see an Elf on the Shelf a couple of times—an elf that clearly has some creepy telepathic abilities, given his psychic link with the North Pole and all. Max makes some cookies for Santa featuring “Satan’s Heinie Nuclear Hot Sauce.” We hear a reference to a “Christmas miracle.”
When left alone at home, Max sits down at his father’s desk and says, “internet, show me your worst.” But he quickly encounters his parents’ internet blocking service (much to his disappointment). When Max asks his Alexa-like computer assistant to help him find good booby traps, the assistant tells him no-can-do. “The parental controls on this system restrict the term ‘booby,’” it says.
After Pam and Jeff’s open house is over, Pam says that a man she caught sneaking through her underwear drawers seemed to be interested. “Yes, but not in the house,” agent Gavin says. Pam tells her kids that “personal trainer” Gavin has been hired to “put some muscle on that flat pancake butt” of Jeff’s. When Max accidentally touches his sister on the arm in the hallway, his sister calls him a “perv.”
Pam and Jeff’s teen daughter performs at a Christmas concert wearing a shoulder-baring dress; Pam and Jeff do not approve. Max, goofing off, wears a dress for a bit of his time alone. Pam, making small talk with a patrolling police officer, asks indirectly about his wife. “No one ever tamed this wild stallion,” the officer says. As he tries to scale a wall, Jeff loses his pants and gives the camera a good view of his boxers.
Max assumes that Pam and Jeff want to sell him to an old lady. He believes the lady just wants to fuss over him with all of her old-lady friends (one of whom takes out her false teeth before licking her finger and giving his face a rubdown). But, of course, even that innocent misunderstanding feels mildly creepy, given the serious issue human trafficking is today.
And so we get to the guts of the matter (so to speak).
Pam and Jeff incur the brunt of the movie’s slapstick violence, naturally. One or both are thwacked with billiard balls shot out of a modified gun; pin-cushioned with modified, spiky Nerf darts; slide and fall; have their feet set on fire; are stabbed in the finger; nearly perforated by falling icicles; slide and fall; smash into walls and knick-knack shelves; battered by weights slung from a high-powered treadmill; slide and fall; hit their foreheads on lampposts; are pummeled by Mentos-powered, soft-drink-fueled bottles; slide and fall; endure a cruel LEGO gauntlet with bare feet and hands; thumped by bags of various baking ingredients (including a bag of sugar to the groin); slide and fall; smash their faces into a tree limb; tumble over bannisters to the floor below; kajunked repeatedly in the head by a door, nearly drown in a partly-frozen pool and are nearly impaled by a falling chandelier.
Also, did I mention they slide and fall?
“He’s hurting me, Pam!” Jeff cries to his wife, and indeed Max is. Jeff loses a tooth in the fracas and suffers an extremely painful lump on the forehead. But otherwise, both seem to escape without long-term injury. (The emotional scars, you’d think, will take longer to heal.)
Jeff gets pelted with snowballs. Portions of Max’s house are utterly destroyed. Pam and Jeff smash through barriers and hit lamp posts with their car. Jeff punches a snowman. (“Sorry,” he says. “I’m having a bad day.”)
We hear a few crudities, including “crap,” “heck” and a couple of f-word stand-ins (“freaking”). A diary has a glittery “OMG” glued on it. Max nearly says the s-word. People call others “cretin” and “perv.”
Wine accompanies a Christmas dinner.
Pam and Jeff debate whether stealing something that was stolen from you is morally/legally OK. (“Yes,” argues Pam. “That’s what O.J. got in trouble for. The second time.”) Jeff knows where Max’s house key is hidden and knows the code for the alarm system. Thus, he argues, it’s not technically breaking and entering. “It’s just entering.”
In the first hour or two he’s alone, Max gorges himself on M&Ms and sprays whipped cream in his mouth (topping it off with a cherry). He surfs down the stairs on an ironing board, too—activities I’m fairly sure his mother would frown upon. He and others treat adults with disrespect. And while he didn’t steal the doll with the upside-down head, someone else did.
While Pam tries to push Jeff over a wall, Jeff lets out some noisy, smelly gas in Pam’s face. Max says he’s avoiding the bathroom, because one of his relatives ate entirely too many deviled eggs. We hear discussions about urination.
The police officer—Buzz McCallister from the original Home Alone movies—ignores Max’s call to 911, assuming that it was a prank call from an adult Kevin (who makes the same call every Christmas, apparently). People lie at times.
Comparing Home Sweet Home Alone to its famous 1990 forebear is a study in comparative problems.
In some ways, the new version is indeed sweeter than the original Home Alone. The language in the 1990 version was a bit more foul, with “d–n” and “h—” and “a–” peppering the script. The violence might’ve been a touch more violent, too. So on that level, you could say that Home Sweet Home Alone is an improvement.
But that wouldn’t be quite right.
The new movie feels meaner, perhaps because the victims of its violence are nicer. They’re just parents trying to save the family home—victims of a wildly and literally painful misunderstanding. Moreover, the obligatory sweet turn the story takes feels tacked on and false. Max, because of his own cynical sniping at Jeff before the misunderstanding, is a less-than-sympathetic hero, too. Despite its name, Home Sweet Home Alone doesn’t feel sweet at all. It feels cruel.
And then, of course, there’s the curious sexual asides and trips to the bathroom humor—all of which felt just a wee bit harsh in the context of a PG holiday film.
The movie gives us a quick meta-wink about halfway through. Jeff’s brother, Hunter, is watching a show on television and bemoaning its lack of quality. “I don’t know why they’re always trying to remake the classics,” he grouses. “They’re never as good as the original.” Home Sweet Home Alone proves the point.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.