Say what you want, but I LIKE this version of Ellie Kemper.
The ever-sweetly-smiling plucky ditz of “The Office” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” goes kind of, well, bad-ass for “Home Sweet Home Alone.” And that’s fun because in this version of “Home Alone,” adults are definitely rooting for the house-breakers, and not the smart-aleck punk who’s barricaded and booby-trapped himself inside to defend it.
The topicality of this reboot is that a suburban family is about to lose its house. Father Jeff (Rob Delaney) has lost his job, and teacher-mom (Kemper) are hiding the “selling our house” news from the kids every way they can.
They even get a realtor (Kenan Thompson, funny as usual) to join their conspiracy and help them stage a secret Open House. That’s how British potty-break-craving Carol (Aisling Bea) and her Brit Brat of a kid (Archie Yates of “JoJo Rabbit”) end up dropping in. Just for a little trip to the loo, my darlings.
Smart-mouthed Archie takes entirely too much interest in the “ugly boy” porcelain dolls that husband Jeff inherited from his mother. When the most valuable one turns up missing, naturally they want to find the kid and get it back.
“Harry stinking Potter comes into our house” and swipes our financial lifeline? It’s on.
But a few blocks away, little Max has hidden himself from the mayhem in his stuffed-with-visitors McMansion, and that’s how he’s Left Behind. Sorry, left “Home Alone.”
Mum, Dad and the extended family are all in Tokyo, and Max has the place — with its “HouseBot” smart house gadget — all to himself.
Jeff is leery of breaking and entering to retrieve what’s theirs, but Pam isn’t having “Harry Stinkin’ Potter come into OUR house” and steal their future. Oh, it’s on.
A few misunderstandings later and Max is onto their efforts, and proceeds to plan accordingly — Hot Wheels hot-feet tricks, “Satan’s Heinie” hot sauce traps and a Nerf cannon repurposed to fire billiard balls. It’s going to get nasty in the middle of Chicagoland’s (Winnetka) latest “Snowmageddon.”
The original “Home Alone” is one of those films, like “Shawshank,” beloved beyond any actual merits seen on the screen. But that said, there’s no improving on it, only remaking it into a washed-out photocopy.
Little kids will appreciate the heaping helping of slapstick — again, no better than the Mac Culkin version. Parents will sympathize with the wisecrack, “Why’re they always remaking the classics?” uttered by a supporting character early on.
More could have been done with the “frantic” Mum, whose very English avalanche of “Sorry, sorry, sorry” apologies can’t get her onto a plane quick enough to get back to her child. The Irish comedienne Bea could have done a LOT more with this part, had the screenwriters let her.
Delaney, of TV’s “Catastrophe,” does his best Will Ferrell. It’s not bad, just not funny enough.
Kemper, I have to say, just brings it. Sure, there were stunt doubles on board, but the pratfalls, the fury of a woman wronged, the lie-on-the-fly cunning — this is a You-Don’t-Mess-With-Momma we can get behind.
Young Yates is obnoxiously written and he does what he can with what’s there.
But the original film had a lot more edge than this. There’s a hint of Max worrying Mum will go to jail for Child Endangerment, which keeps the cops (the one we meet is named McCallister) out of the picture and he battles the intruders. We feared for the kid, then. We root against the little creep, now.
A trip to church provided much of the heart of the first film. That trip doesn’t accomplish that here.
And the third act wraps up this not-quite warm and fuzzy enterprise in a smothering blanket of warm and fuzzy.
There it is. Nice snow, some very good pratfalls, Ellie K and Kenan T kill it and everybody else reads their script and wishes John Hughes was still around to fix it.
Rating: PG, for slapstick violence
Cast: Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Archie Yates, Aisling Bea, Timothy Simons and Kenan Thompson.
Credits: Directed by Dan Mazer, scripted by Mikey Day and Streiter Seidel, based on the John Hughes films. A 20th Century film on Disney+.
Running time: 1:36