Top critical review
When the "Cuteness" Fades...
on December 9, 2001
Since the early 80s, writer/producer (and sometime director) John Hughes has had his finger on the pulse of contemporary America. Responsible for such films as "The Breakfast Club," the wildly successful National Lampoon "Vacation" series (including "Christmas Vacation," which to many has become a holiday staple, right up there with "A Christmas Carol" and "It's A Wonderful Life") and another favorite around Thanksgiving time, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," he nevertheless achieved his greatest commercial success when he came up with the idea of having a little boy getting inadvertently left behind when his family goes off for a Christmas vacation to Paris. That, of course, was "Home Alone." But he didn't stop there. Some two years later that same little boy boards the wrong plane and ends up in New York City while his parents and the rest of his family go to Florida, in "Home Alone 2-- Lost In New York," directed by Chris Columbus.
Once again the extended McCallister family is off for the Christmas holidays, and this time Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) winds up alone in New York. Luckily for him, however, he somehow manages to end up with his father's carry-on, which just happens to contain a credit card. And by using the kind of ingenuity that would escape most adults, he successfully checks himself into the Plaza Hotel under his dad's name, whereupon he soon discovers room service. He also discovers Duncan's Toy Store (to which he is transported in style via the Plaza's limo, complete with cheese pizza just for him), a pigeon lady (Brenda Fricker) in Central Park, and some old acquaintances from back home, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci), the "Wet Bandits" themselves, though now known (since breaking out of prison) as the "Sticky Bandits." Meanwhile, mom and dad (Catherine O'Hara and John Heard) are frantic in Florida when they arrive and realize that Kevin is once again gone missing. And with that, the search is on. Meanwhile, back in New York--
Opting to ride the "Home Alone" series out as writer/producer, Hughes placed the project in capable hands with director Columbus (who also directed the original "Home Alone," and more recently the hugely successful "Harry Potter). This one may not have been a stretch for him artistically, especially since the characters had been previously established in the first one, but comedy of any kind can be touchy, as it is such a purely subjective arena, and Columbus does a good job of keeping the story on track (for the most part) and moving it right along. Wisely, the filmmakers chose to proceed on the assumption that everyone had seen "Home Alone," and therefore waste little time setting things up. Instead, they contrive to get Kevin posthaste to New York -- where the story really begins-- and even if you haven't seen the first one this will work for you, because this, as they say, isn't brain surgery.
Even so, it's a fairly uneven film. There's a few laughs in the rush and flurry of getting Kevin to the Big Apple, but at that point Culkin is expected to carry the film, and quite frankly, left alone (no pun intended) it's a task for which he is simply not qualified. He was veritably propelled to stardom when he played Kevin the first time around, but now-- two years later and two years older-- whatever "cuteness" or magic he may have had then is already noticeably starting to fade. All that aside, however, the truth of the matter is he's just not that capable as an actor, paling in comparison to Haley Joel Osment or "Potter's" Daniel Radcliffe. Culkin's timing is poor and his reactions lack the spontaneity that would have made Kevin a bit more believable. His whole presentation of the character just seems too forced; and the attitude he conveys is more caustic than cute, which certainly detracts from his credibility, as well.
Oscar winner (for "My Left Foot") Brenda Fricker has a dismally thankless role as the "Pigeon Lady" who connects with Kevin in the park. With her character, Hughes and Columbus are obviously attempting to recapture the poignancy of the Culkin/Roberts Blossom "church" scene in the original (which worked very well); but Fricker's heavy-handed dramatics, combined with Culkin's aloof response to her, is almost too embarrassing to watch. And the sight of Fricker standing statue-like in the park while pigeons come to roost on her head and shoulders is neither comical nor touching, but ridiculous. In Fricker's defense, it wasn't entirely her fault; she was simply given material that didn't work and a part that was a no-win situation from the beginning.
The only thing that really saves this picture at all is, without question, the slapstick antics of Marv and Harry. When they at last engage in battle with Kevin (and you know it's coming), it's more violent than the Road Runner cartoons it emulates, but manages to produce some out-and-out, over-the-top, bona fide belly laughs. Because-- forget everything else-- these two guys are dumber than a sackful of hammers, and Columbus successfully milks it for all it's worth and then some. A warning to kids, though: These buffoons are professionals; do not try this stuff at home.
The supporting cast includes Tim Curry (Concierge), Dana Ivey (Mrs. Stone), Rob Schneider (Cedrick), Devin Ratray (Buzz), Ralph Foody (Gangster Johnny), Kieran Culkin (Fuller), Eddie Bracken (Mr. Duncan) and Gerry Bamman (Uncle Frank). Culkin may be the "star" of this show, but without the talent they surround him with, "Home Alone 2-- Lost In New York" would've had to be retitled "Lost at the Video Store," with a shelf life of about two minutes before disappearing altogether. As it is, thanks to some cunning maneuvers by the filmmakers, this one at least provides some passable entertainment and a few good laughs. For a satisfying evening at the movies you could certainly do worse than this; but you could do much better, too.