Home Alone 3
1997, PG, 103 min. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Starring Alex D. Linz, Haviland Morris, Kevin Kilner, Rya Kihlstedt, Marian Seldes.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Dec. 12, 1997
John Hughes seems to have copped to a profound truth. Critical judgment aside, the durability of his Home Alone series will determine whether he spends his dotage sailing in Barbados or bagging groceries in a Tampa Minit Mart to pay the wastewater hookup fee for his RV. The modest artistic success of his early Eighties teen comedies is a remote memory now. And with even the once-hardy National Lampoon's Vacation series in an advanced necrotic state, the last healthy cash cow in his corral is this ongoing series featuring resourceful tykes left alone to repel the onslaught of slapstick villains. For the third installment, Hughes returns as sole screenwriter and has clearly invested a lot more creative effort in his work than in recent projects such as Baby's Day Out and Dennis the Menace. With original star Macaulay Culkin lost to puberty and megalomania, Hughes has stripped the vehicle down to its frame and started over. There's an all-new cast, headed by McDonald's commercial graduate Alex D. Linz as Culkin equivalent Alex Pruitt. The bad guys are no longer buffoonish street hoods but a sophisticated quartet of international high-tech thieves trying to recover a radar-blocking gadget hidden in a toy car that has fallen into Alex's possession. Relatively speaking, Hughes pulls out the stops here, even attempting (to what end I can't imagine) a bit of rudimentary character development in the crooks. He's rounded up an attractive, interesting group of faces, and first-time director Gosnell perfectly replicates the bright, cheerily antiseptic FAO Schwarz catalogue look that's the visual trademark of his employer's films. Gosnell displays a nice grasp of the camera's role in high-energy comedy of this type. A camera mounted on a radio-controlled car is used to especially good effect, creating numerous inventive shot angles. Hughes' use of music is, as always, clever and effective. And loath though I am to aid in stoking the Hollywood sequel mill, I have to admit laughing pretty often -- albeit through clenched teeth -- at the inventively sadistic series of Rube Goldbergian traps young Alex sets for his assailants. Hughes, whose chief contribution to film history may not be his fervid adolescent-identity quests but the outrageous brutality of his physical comedy, keeps the laughs and groans coming by laying the lumber (not to mention barbells, flowerpots, bathroom fixtures, and crowbars) to his baddies in scene after mayhem-filled scene. Adults will probably start punching the Indiglo buttons on their watches well before the end, but based on the preview crowd's response, my guess is that Home Alone 3 will light up your preteen kids' nervous systems like a big, gluey double-fistful of Screaming Yellow Zonkers. Which, one supposes, is basically the whole point here.