Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guilty Pleasure Pick: Holiday Films, Part 4: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Title: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

"Don't you know a kid always wins against two idiots."- Kevin McCallister.

Much of the plot and themes of Home Alone 2 is recycled from the original, but I’ve always preferred the sequel.  This largely because of the location.  Let’s just face it, New York City is a lot more exciting than Winnetka.  While having your parents’ mansion to yourself is fun, it can’t compete with staying at a luxury hotel and going to the biggest, coolest toy store ever.  The movie does a good job of capturing the magic of being a suburban kid in a big city.  Even as adult, there is something cool about being in the Loop, with all those skyscrapers, twinkling signs, and historic places.  It feels like you’re in the center of everything.  Duncan’s Toy Chest in particular reminds me of the big FAO Schwarz store on Michigan Ave.; it's more of a theme park than a toy store.  

So Kevin gets to live the dream a bit, though it eventually the trip goes sour when Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) runs into his former foes, the Wet Bandits- Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) and finds out they are planning on robbing Duncan’s Toy Chest on Christmas Eve.  Problem is, the store’s profits for that evening are supposed to be going to a children’s hospital.  No one messes with kids on Christmas with Kevin around!  So naturally he goes to the police.  Just kidding,, here’s where things get strange.  

He sets up his uncle’s under-construction condo with a bunch of booby traps and then lures the dim-witted criminals inside.  Kevin is a little bit of Rube Goldbergian sadist.  The creative and ingenious ways Kevin thinks of causing bodily harm to Harry and Marv don't serve any real purpose, beside hilarity and fulfilment of Kevin’s revenge fantasies.  Harry and Marv don’t actually face justice until the police find them varnished and feathered in Central Park.  Also, it's hard not notice that a lot of the time Kevin could have easily escaped, if he hadn’t stop so much to admire his handy work . The cartoonish violence in the movie, while funny (like when Marv is on the brink of being electrocuted), is also creepy because there’s no real consequence to it (besides slowing Harry and Marv down for a second).  In real life, Harry and Marv would at least have serious internal injuries after their time with Kevin.  You can only be hit by a brick in the head so many times without it doing some damage! 

Don't get me wrong, I understand that the whole point of the franchise is watching cute, adorable Kevin torture two nincompoops. And they aren't exactly innocents; Harry and Marv have a criminal history as long as Santa's Naughty list and they are planning on killing Kevin.  However, Home Alone 2 is among the most dark and twisted holiday movies around.  It's a black comedy disguised as family friendly fare, which maybe why I still enjoy it.  Below are my top five favorite things about the movie:

5).  The Talkboy.  Contrary to critics who say this film is an advertisement for the bulky and ineffective tape recorder Kevin carries around, it wasn't a real toy until a while after the movie was released.  So there!  However, it's a central part of two of my favorite scenes from the movie.  First, when Kevin calls to make a room reservation as the Plaza, he uses the gadget to slow down his voice and create a really phony sounding adult voice.  I love the actual dialogue of the phone call, which is truly something only a kid would think would fool anybody, "Howdy-Do. This is Peter McCallister- (very slowly) The father- I'd like a hotel room, please, with an extra large bed, a TV, and one of those refrigerators you have to open with a key.  Credit Card, you got it!"  Still, somehow it works.  Another fine scene is when Kevin uses the recording of his Uncle Frank singing in the shower and an inflatable Bozo doll to fool the hotel concierge, Mr. Hector (Tim Curry), into thinking he walked in on Peter "The Father" McCallister in the shower.

4).  The Plaza Hotel. It's hard to believe that this hotel actually agreed to let Home Alone 2 be set there.  Perhaps they didn't read the script beforehand, because their staff are portrayed as a bunch of unprofessional morons who don't like children.  Or maybe they just have a really good sense of humor about themselves.  Cedric (Rob Schneider) is always out for a tip.  And Mr. Hector immediately seems suspicious of Kevin and even goes so far as to break into the hotel room to spy on him.  Creepy.  When Peter's credit card shows up as stolen, he immediately accuses Kevin and scares Kevin out of the hotel and onto the mean streets.  At one point, Kevin's mom, Kate (Catherine O'Hara) even asks, "What kind morons do you have working here?"  To which, Mr. Hector responds, "The finest in New York."  

3).  Angels with Even Filthier Souls. John Hughes does a good job of taking swear words and other adult elements and sanitizing them in a really funny and satirical way. For example, he uses made-up insults like "trout sniffer" instead of curse words.  Or having  professional swearmouth Joe Pesci constantly muttering under his breath  "Frick-a-frack-a-frick."  Angels with Even Filthier Souls, the sequel to gangster film he watches in the original, is a good example of Hughes' wit in making things family friendly.  It's like Scarface as interpreted by a 10 year-old.  In it, bad guy gangster Johnny accuses his girlfriend, Susie, of "smooching with everybody" and then shoots her (off-camera, of course) with a tommy gun.  My favorite line is when Johnny says to Susie, "I knew it was you, I could smell you getting off the elevator."  Total kid insult!

2).  Uncle Frank and Fuller.  Kieran has always been my favorite Culkin.  Here he is ebullient as Fuller, a chronic bedwetter who just can't turn down a can of Pepsi.  Fuller is one of those nerdy kids who just doesn't really care that other people think he's a loser.  He doesn't flinch a bit when his dad Frank announces that he should lay off the Pepsi, because the rubber sheets are packed.  You could definitely see him growing up to be a Dwight Shrute type.  Kevin's Uncle and Fuller's Dad, Frank (Gerry Bamman), is perpetually outfitted in Cosby sweaters and characterized by his extremely frugal nature.  Like Fuller, he is hilariously lacks self-awareness.  The scene of him singing in the shower is perhaps my favorite, largely for his interjection "Oh, you're cooking Franky."  Uncle Frank is truly the king of the cool jerks.  

1).  Daniel Stern as Marv Merchants.  Daniel Stern is one of those actors I wish would get cast in more things.  Here he gives a wonderful slapstick as the dumber of the two Wet Bandits.  Marv is not choosy about his criminal activity and one of my favorite scenes is on the ice rink, where he steals layers and layers of winter apparel from the other skaters- a girls hat, a kid's gloves, Marv is a true kleptomaniac.  Joe Pesci's Harry brings the muscle to Wet Bandits, but Marv's slow-witted reactions to Kevin's booby traps are really the funniest part of this movie.