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An Ugly Painting

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

What is the bare minimum one should expect for a Home Alone film? I would have said at one point that the movie should feature the McCallisters, but after the third film, which didn’t have any of the original cast of characters (from the first two movies) included in its run time, that wouldn’t seem to be a rule. While that movie wasn’t necessarily great, it did have fun moments and certainly felt like a proper entry in the franchise, so no, the McCallisters aren’t needed.

And yet the fourth entry felt the need to bring back the McCallisters. That was about the only thing that film managed to do as, on every front, the film wasn’t very good. Old characters, new actors, very little in the way of holiday fun. All it really had was a kid working on his own (who wasn’t even, arguably, “home alone”) to stop some would-be, nefarious evil doers. At that point it seems like the only rules we have to have for this franchise are (a) robbers, (b) a kid at home, and, (c) lame traps (that may or may not actually be good at stopping people from doing anything). And, in that regard, the fifth Home Alone does actually manage to hit the mark.

Perhaps that’s a tad harsh as this entry, Home Alone: The Holiday Heist, actually isn’t anywhere near as bad as the fourth encounter with the franchise. Sure, the opening scene is probably some of the worst acting in the movie, and the film does take a little time to get moving and set the plot in order. But at a certain point, once the actors are comfortable and everyone is settled in, this actually does become a halfway watchable, even fun at times, movie. I still wouldn’t rank it anywhere near the original movie, but if I was forced to watch this film during a holiday, I might not completely shit a brick over it.

This fifth entry focuses on Finn Baxter (Christian Martyn), a 10 year old who has just had to move across the country, from California, with his family at Christmas time. After a long car ride with his family -- mom Catherine (Ellie Harvie), dad Curtis (Doug Murray), and sister Alexis (Jodelle Ferland) -- Finn has to settle into his new house… which he immediately assumes is haunted. The basement is scary, there’s creepy things moving around at night, and Finn could swear the ghost of the house’s original owner, mobster Dead Leg, still wanders the halls.

Finn is at least partially right as Dead Leg did own the house, and even had a secret safe (with an even more secret room behind it) in the basement. That secret room holds a stolen painting, a work of art that a band of thieves -- Malcolm McDowell as Sinclair, Debi Mazar as Jessica, Eddie Steeples as Hughes -- wish to claim. Of course, once Finn realizes that it’s not ghosts but robbers trying to break into his house, all while his parents are off at a holiday party leaving him and his sister alone, Finn jumps into gear to defend the place. And we again have a kid going up against robbers at the holidays in this franchise five-quel.

As far as these films go, this fifth entry is at least watchable. Credit where it’s due, the producers did find a decent set of actors to portray the roles here. No one is anywhere near as astoundingly bad as the collective cast from the fourth movie, and, in fact, many are quite watchable. Special credit is due to Murray, playing the dad Curtis, who manages to be the secret, comedy gold this film needed. He can reliably sell a reaction shot, or a joke, and make most of his scenes funnier than they have any right to be. That opening scene of the movie is terrible, and I thought no one was going to be able to act and this would be a torturous hour-and-a-half, but thankfully that was not the case. I legitimately enjoyed the characters here.

With that said, the plot is as threadbare and cookie-cutter as they come for this franchise. By now the setup is obvious. Take kids, put them in a house, conveniently have the adults leave, and then let robbers show up. And these aren’t even smart robbers. Hell, they’re pretty moronic. They supposedly are the best in the business, a trio that can break into anything with ease, and yet they can’t even figure out the basics of this crime they’re committing. They are able to instantly find the safe in the first ten minutes, but then when they open it they don’t even think for half a second that the safe might have a hidden room behind it. It’s a hidden safe behind a false wall, and it’s the house of a known moonshine runner. I saw the empty safe and instantly knew it had a false room behind it. But they don’t, and so what should have been a plotline that wrapped itself up in ten minutes became a whole long, drawn out movie.

Which, sure. Fine. We have to have a Home Alone setup in this Home Alone movie. But it would have been nice if the robbers could have been at all intelligent. Know the person you were originally robbing. Learn about the family. Plan for contingencies. They make a sly comment about “bandits” at one point, obviously nodding to the first film, but they can’t even put half the work into plotting their break in that the Wet Bandits did in either of their films (or even the terrible fourth movie). They’re glorified smash-and-grab gangsters who don’t use their brains. It’s no wonder they get defeated by a child.

The actual climactic heist, meanwhile, does leave a bit to be desired. Most of Finn’s “traps” are little more than pranks. He throws glue and cotton on one person, foul-smelling goop on another, gets them caught in mild tricks, and occasionally bruises some shins. These are low stakes little larks, not enough to actually stop these guys from getting where they need to go. Not that Finn really needs to do anything since these guys are motivated to hit one spot in the house, steal one item, and go. Frankly, Finn could step aside and let the robbers do their thing and none of the Home Alone shenanigans would even be needed. It’s a self-resolving plot, like Indiana Jones looking for the Ark of Covenant, and if Finn just ignored everyone the movie would end. Sure, the robbers wouldn’t be caught but, well, they still have to fence the painting (or not, as one of them plans) and I’m sure things would end poorly for them at that point. Low stakes barely even begins to cover this half-assed story.

Now, sure, I guess there’s the whole lesson of “crime doesn’t pay”, and we don’t want to see bad guys get away with a crime. Except, it’s made pretty clear that Sinclair should be the rightful owner of the painting. It’s a painting of his family, featuring his grandmother in a prominent role. You often hear about family treasures being lost and then restored to the rightful owner and the whole time I was watching this film I had to think, “Sinclair really should get this painting.” It’s never really clear why he shouldn’t, or who the rightful owner should be. The plot hinges on this painting and when the bad guy seems like the one that actually deserves the loot, something has gone very wrong.

But eh, I guess I’m putting way too much thought into this. It’s a dumb movie with silly pranks and some low-grade action. The franchise at this point has fallen very far and just not being the worst of the lot is probably the only bar we really need to clear. The robbers are caught, Finn learns there’s more to light than hiding in his room, and the painting goes to a museum. For a C-tier holiday adventure, that’s probably good enough. And hell, at least everyone involved is likable enough… unlike the next movie…

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