Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 7, 2006)
In 1990, the sleepers were the kings - and queens - of the box office. That was a year in which highly-touted flicks like Dick Tracy failed to live up to expectations while some lesser-lights cleaned up financially. Four of 1990ís pictures currently rank within the top 100 highest-grossing films of all-time.
At number 95, the yearís first breakout hit came out in the spring. Pretty Woman made Julia Roberts a star and revived the career of Richard Gere as it took in $178 million and inspired prostitutes all over the world. The next surprise success came during the summer with another ďchick flickĒ, Ghost. A complete surprise to most, this weepy comedy nailed an impressive $217 million, which allows it to land at 55th on the all-time chart.
Of the four films under discussion, the riskiest was definitely the fallís Dances With Wolves. Prior to release, industry wags dubbed it ďKevinís GateĒ, for they were absolutely certain the three-hour western would derail star Kevin Costnerís career. Instead, the movie nabbed a bunch of Academy Awards - including Best Picture and Best Director for Costner - and it earned a heap of wampum as well; ultimately the movie grossed $184 million, which qualifies it for 83rd on the all-time list.
For all of the monetary success achieved by these three films, none of them compared with the final flick in our little list of four. Arriving around the same time as Dances With Wolves, Home Alone appealed to a very different demographic, but it maintained enough interest for a broad audience to swipe an amazing $285 million. That easily made it the biggest hit of 1990, and it currently leaves it at 27th on the all-time chart.
(Box office footnote: all four have plummeted in the charts since I originally reviewed Home Alone in 2001. Pretty Woman dropped 44 spots, while Ghost went down 29. Wolves fell 41 places and Home Alone sank 15. That means Alone is lower on the chart now than Ghost was five years ago!)
Frankly, I could never understand the huge success of Alone, though that doesnít mean that I didnít comprehend the general appeal of the material. HmmÖ those concepts seem to contradict themselves. What I mean is that while I can see why a certain audience might enjoy Home Alone, I fail to perceive how this silly junk could become the 12th top-grossing film ever. Perhaps Serendipity - the muse from Dogma - was right; someone must have sold their soul to get the grosses up on this piece of hooey.
In Home Alone, we meet the very upper-middle-class McCallister family. Headed by father Peter (John Heard) and mother Kate (Catherine OíHara), this brood - which also includes extended family such as cousins, aunts and uncles for the holidays - plans to head to France for Christmas. Stuck in the middle of the pandemonium, young Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) feels that he always gets the shaft. No one listens to him or respects him, and after he gets in trouble for a fight with his brother, he tells Mom that he wishes he didnít live with them.
Fairy tales can come true. A storm knocks out their power, which makes the clan run late for their flight. In the ruckus to get to the airport, Kevin fails to make the van. No one notices this until theyíre on the jet to Paris. Thatís when Kate realizes that her son isÖ home alone!
Fortunately for all involved, Kevin is a resourceful eight-year-old, and much of the movie shows the fun he has with all his freedom. A couple of dark linings exist, though. For one, Kevin feels terrified of his spooky neighbor, Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom). Even more threatening, however, are Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci), two house crooks who canvas the neighborhood. With so many families out of town for the holidays, the prosperous street is ripe for the picking, and they seem especially excited about the sumptuous McCallister household.
However, they arenít prepared for our quick-witted protagonist. The film flirts with their interactions through much of its running time, as Kevin uses a variety of quick fixes to keep Harry and Marv away from his domain. (I guess he never thought to simply contact the police.) All of this builds to the movieís famous climax in which Kevin mines the home to torture and abuse the criminals into submission.
While audiences enjoyed most of Home Alone, the end sequence remains its true calling card. I saw Home Alone twice during the winter of 1990-91. During the first screening, I took it in with a small matinee crowd. I thought the movie was decently enjoyable at that time, and I went to watch it again when it rolled around to a local bargain theater. For that showing, the room was packed, and these people were absolutely out of control! Iíve never been with a more hysterically amused audience. I saw people literally slap their knees on many occasions, and at times they went so nuts that a few viewers could not keep themselves from actually banging their heads against the walls.
Many times, a raucous audience will make a movie seem more enjoyable, as the communal spirit lifts the material. The opposite happened when I saw Home Alone. I couldnít believe the overreaction displayed by the crowd. Sure, some of this stuff seemed amusing, but it didnít even remotely merit the fantastic reaction it received. Also, I saw more of the filmís flaws the second time around, and I left the theater with a negative opinion of Home Alone.
That sentiment hasnít changed over the last 15 years. Actually, I hadnít seen the movie in quite some time, but it hasnít improved with age. On the positive side, while I hate to admit it, Culkin really was quite good as Kevin. In later films he proved that he couldnít really act, but for this part he seemed perfect. Culkin displayed just the right confidence and cockiness to make the role work, and though his performance didnít amuse me, I still think it came across as very winning for this sort of film.
As the ďWet BanditsĒ, both Pesci and Stern literally threw themselves into their roles. All involved understood the insanely cartoony nature of the material, so no one appeared to take it too seriously. Stern and Pesci are both fine actors - Pesci won an Oscar in 1991 for 1990ís GoodFellas - who were slumming here, but they didnít let that fact affect their performances.
Otherwise, I canít think of much positive to say about Home Alone. Its main problem stemmed from the fact that much of the movie simply wasnít very funny. So many of the comedic elements seemed trite or contrived that the piece lost much effect. Not only did the slapstick climax come off as excessively brutal - there were some moments that became very painful to watch - but the whole thing finished in an unsatisfying manner. I wonít reveal the exact end of Kevinís fight with the Bandits, but I thought it felt like a disappointment.
The filmís plot was paper thin, and once you got past the conceit of the little kid left to fend for himself, there wasnít much to the film. We also saw Kateís attempts to get home to him, but these moments felt tacked on to the story. I adore OíHara, but she was wasted as the shrill Kate.
Actually, the entire extended family was a drag. I realize that they had to be somewhat nasty to Kevin to roll the plot in motion, but they seemed to be so unfair and malicious that it made them terribly unlikable. Frankly, it felt like Kevin was better off on his own. His relatives were judgmental, unpleasant creeps, and they made it impossible to care if they ever were reunited.
While I didnít like Home Alone, I wonít call it a terrible movie. However, it was a somewhat uninspired offering that earned its popularity via a few harsh slapstick scenes. For those in the mood for such fare, the flick might satisfy, but it lacked any depth or cleverness that would make it more entertaining in the long run.