There are some big laughs in "Home Alone," once it finally gets down to the reason for its existence - a lengthy, very funny slapstick sequence with a young boy setting all kinds of elaborate booby traps for two burglars who are trying to break into his house.
But it takes its time getting there.The lengthy setup has 8-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) accidentally being left behind when his large family goes on an overseas trip for Christmas. The setup has to work, of course, or the audience won't be able to buy into this wild premise at all. At least, the adult audience. But it should have been funnier along the way.
Young Kevin's being forgotten works out fairly logically - if you remember this is a farce - as written by John Hughes (writer-director of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles," "Uncle Buck," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and many others) and directed by Chris Columbus (director of "Adventures in Babysitting," writer of "Gremlins").
Kevin's house is a bit on the chaotic side as his parents (Catherine O'Hara, John Heard), his brothers and sisters and his aunt, uncle and cousins gather together to get ready for their flight to Paris the next day. When the power goes out overnight the alarms don't go off the next morning, and in the rush to get to the airport, Kevin, sleeping alone in the attic, is overlooked.
The family doesn't notice he is missing until the plane is in the air. After they land and can't reach him by phone, Mom tries frantically to catch a flight back home.
When Kevin wakes up and finds he's been abandoned, he is at first frightened but then decides to make the most of it, doing all kinds of "kid" things that would get him in trouble if the family were home. It isn't long, however, before he begins acting like a responsible little adult.
Meanwhile, a pair of inept burglars (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern) have been casing the neighborhood and plan to break into his home. Little do they know they've met their match in Kevin.
It's easy to pick apart a movie like this:
Would it really take the family that many hours to notice that Kevin isn't with them? Even if they neglected to notice he was not aboard one of their two airport transportation vans, when they boarded the airplane they'd have to find themselves with an extra ticket. Or the other kids would surely notice he wasn't with them.
And even the most independent 8-year-old in the world is likely to be more upset than Kevin when he realizes he's in his house all alone and his family has left the country. And even the dumbest would probably go to a neighbor's house for help.
But this is the world of John Hughes, and it's best not to ask questions.
The script is inventive and the payoff is worth the wait, and Hughes has mercifully stayed away from the excessive vulgarity that marred "Uncle Buck."
Columbus' direction of the physical comedy is well-timed, though his speeded-up camera for the early chaos at home seems ill-advised. John Candy's cameo, which seems largely improvised, is not funny. And John Williams' sweeping score is more suited to an outdoor epic than an indoor slapstick comedy.
The performances are very good, especially by young Culkin and Pesci and Stern. And special kudos to Roberts Blossom as the supposed "snow shovel slayer," who takes one sentimental scene and gives it unexpected depth.
Ultimately, "Home Alone," rated PG for comic violence and a couple of mild vulgarities, is a kids' picture. And kids are going to love it.
If you're a kid, by the way, bump up the old-fogey 21/2-star rating to three.