There was a time when leaving your child home alone while you went away for a Christmas holiday would have been enough to get the child taken out of your custody, placed in care and given years of therapy. But then Chris Columbus directed this film, written by John Hughes, and people saw that a young boy alone in a house about to be targeted by criminals was actually full of great comic potential. Not to mention full of box office potential (the movie was a smash hit upon its release with its perfect family appeal).
Macauley Culkin plays Kevin McCallister, the young boy who ends up being left home alone after a mix-up during the headcount while the family is rushing to get to the airport. Everything seems like a dream come true, initially, as Kevin watches movies that he’s usually not allowed to watch, pigs out on junk food and generally does all of the stuff that he’d normally get a telling off for. Things take a turn for the serious, however, when the house is targeted by “the wet bandits” (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) and young Kevin realises that he must defend his home, what with being the man of the house and all.
While the first half of this movie has many laughs and moves along at a brisk enough pace, it’s a little too reliant on the charm of Culkin and the comedy value of him yelling loudly and flailing his arms around. That works, but only just.
Where the movie succeeds beyond expectations is in its final half hour, which contains a wonderful and extended sequence of comedy guaranteed to induce big laughs in those who don’t mind seeing proper cartoon violence given the live-action treatment. When the movie turns into Kevin vs. The Wet Bandits it’s consistently hilarious and entertaining and Daniel Stern, in particular, mines some comedy gold with his physical performance.
Elsewhere, things are balanced between the schmaltzy (the chat with “Old Man” Marley is a bit too obvious, the chat with a Santa Claus a bit too cute) and the enjoyable (Kevin shopping for ready meals is one amusing moment, as is the use of old gangster movie dialogue to deal with a pizza delivery boy . . . . . . “keep the change, ya filthy animal”). There’s also fun to be had every time we cut to Kevin’s frantic parents (played by Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) and a highly entertaining cameo from John Candy.
This is a kid’s fantasy movie but it’s a superbly entertaining one. Never mind the puritanical people who say that it’s too violent or not suitable for children. This is classic Loony Tunes stuff, in its final act, with Kevin being the Road Runner pursued by not one but two Wile E. Coyotes.
Considering the movie was directed by Chris “sweet enough to rot your teeth” Columbus it’s actually a miracle that things didn’t tilt over at the end to become something that could put us all into a diabetic coma. Yes, it’s overly cute in places and a bit annoying in others but then it goes and smacks you in the face with a steam iron. Which, perversely, makes it all the more loveable.
DIRECTOR: CHRIS COLUMBUS
CAST: MACAULAY CULKIN, JOE PESCI, DANIEL STERN, CATHERINE O’HARA, JOHN HEARD, JOHN CANDY
RUNTIME: 103 MINS APPROX