I often wonder what reputation Home Alone 2: Lost in New York has. Obviously the original Home Alone was a classic and a box office behemoth at the time, but I know that everyone has to have an opinion about Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. I’m just not sure what the opinion is. Is it remembered fondly, or do we just write it off as an obvious cash grab? For me, it’s both. There are moments in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York that are truly, genuinely funny, and the movie is just good enough to where I don’t revisiting it every few winters or so. Yet it’s the kind of movie that would be a lot more successful if the original film didn’t exist.
Why? Simple: this is basically the original film, copied and pasted, with a few details changed around. The stakes are raised, sure. But replace the McCallister household with New York City, replace Old Man Marley with the pigeon lady, insert the cast of the original, add a few new characters, and lay out the groundwork for the finale but with a few new traps, and you have Home Alone 2. Obviously since the original film was a gargantuan hit (and it skyrocketed the career of Macaulay Culkin), a sequel was to come. Yet this one is hinged on plot conveniences and… yeah, conveniences. This was a movie made for money… but there are still pleasures to be had from it, even if it barely has a creative bone.
The setup of Home Alone 2 is pretty familiar as well. We get the John Williams credits, and then we find the McCallister clan as they’re gearing up for a huge family trip to Florida for Christmas a year after the events of the original. Everyone appears to be on better terms, and they’re hell bent on making sure that they don’t leave Kevin (Culkin) behind again. Everything goes awry at a Christmas pageant though, when his big bully brother Buzz (Devin Ratray), the cause of the ruckus last time, makes Kevin look like an idiot in front of the whole audience. Kevin pushes him, knocks the whole choir over and the whole pageant literally falls apart.
Once again we find the family turning against Kevin, and even though he’s not totally in the wrong, he finds himself at odd with his mother (Catherine O’Hara). Alas, the trip to Florida continues, and they don’t forget Kevin. That of course goes south though whenever the family is, once again, late for their flight and, amidst Kevin trying to replace batteries for his voice recorder thingy (said device plays a key role later in the story), Kevin loses his family and chases after a man wearing the same coat as his dad, and follows this man onto the plane. I will say, I do appreciate just how carefully orchestrated this all is. They drop a detail early on that the family is sitting separately because “they’re lucky they’re even able to get a flight this time of year” or something and that’s the reason why Kevin assumes he’s on the right flight. Sure, he might’ve checked to see at any point in the flight if any of his huge family was actually on the plane, but he was also once again not on very good terms with them because of the previous night, so I guess it adds up. He also lost his ticket but he’s a kid and because he’s a kid and it’s Christmas, and he doesn’t have a ticket to prove where he’s going, nobody stops him from charting to a different state.
Of course though, Kevin and the McCallisters aren’t on the same flight, with the rest of the family reaching Florida (it’s raining a ton there too, Merry Christmas) and Kevin realizes that he’s actually in New York City. Oh yeah, amidst running through the airport, Kevin was also holding onto his dad’s (John Heard) wallet. So at least he isn’t without resources. So he finds himself living it up, exploring the city, staying at the Plaza Hotel. Trouble arises though in two different forms: the hotel manager (Tim Curry, always a treat) suspects Kevin is up to something, because duh, and the other is that (now, get ready to suspend disbelief) the Wet Bandits, Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) have just broken out of jail and find themselves in New York. Oh yeah, and of course the family realizes that Kevin isn’t there and O’Hara and company try to figure out where he is.
Okay, so back to the suspension of disbelief. Now I know that this is a movie, and it’s a comedy, and it’s a comedy in which a guy gets five bricks thrown at his face and he still lives… but you’re telling me that Harry and Marv broke out of jail in Chicago, and headed to New York City, of all places, at the exact same time as Kevin McCallister, who is, to our knowledge, their sole, mortal enemy? First of all, I’ll just say that I’m glad Pesci and Stern return, because without them we probably wouldn’t have the hilarity of the final act. But… isn’t this just a tad too… convenient? Also, how the hell did they get to New York City? They’ve just broken out of jail, how did they get the money to get there? Also, it’s New York friggin City… what are the odds that they’re going to run into Kevin McCallister at such times?
Again, it’s a romp and it’s perhaps churlish of me to try and spoil a good time, because it is mostly a good time. These are just things that you can’t help but notice watching Home Alone 2. Then there’s also the subject of the pigeon lady, played by Academy Award winner Brenda Fricker. This character… is basically the same exact thing as Old Man Marley. She glares at Kevin and scares the bejeezus out of him, but he gets to know her and realizes she has a heart of gold. These moments are sweet and it’s a shame that Fricker never did more, but also in the back of your mind you can’t help but think of the first film. The older I’ve gotten, the more that the old man Marley subplot has moved me. He was estranged from his child and because of that he hasn’t spent any time with his granddaughter, and they end the film with a moving payoff. Pigeon lady? She had a break up that shattered her heart… and now she’s a pigeon lady. She doesn’t get much of a payoff, but she has Kevin’s friendship. It’s 1992 and he’s going to go back home to Illinois and probably never write to her again because she doesn’t have a mailbox or a house or call her again because she’s a homeless pigeon lady… but it’s the thought that counts.
It is hard to be too grouchy though when so much of the movie is as funny as it is. Granted, even the funny moments in Home Alone 2 prominently feature the DNA of the previous movie, but they land just well enough to where the movie works. I love pretty much every scene with Tim Curry. I love the transition from the Grinch’s smile to his. I also just love his delivery… and him, to hell with it, I love Tim Curry. He also gets perhaps the film’s funniest scene, where Kevin uses the Angels with Even Filthier Souls movie against the hotel staff. It’s implausible, but it’s a hoot.
There’s also the final act, of course directly taken from the previous film. But it’s also kind of the centerpiece. They simply couldn’t make a Home Alone movie without it, and of course it’s cartoonish and over the top but it is still nonetheless funny. Particularly the scene where Marv gets electrocuted turning the sink on. I have to gasp for air every time I see Marv turn into a skeleton, mixed with Stern’s screams.
Basically, Home Alone 2 follows the “if it ain’t broke” method of sequel writing. They knew that they could cash in on a sequel because of the general public’s affection for first film. They were correct. They almost, ALMOST made the exact same movie, almost beat by beat. In the end, the movie is a cash grab, but it’s a least a watchable, sometimes hilarious, and memorable, if wholly unoriginal, cash grab.
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