Sequels inspired by easy money rather than creative impulse are always risky propositions for viewers, and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992) – following in the footsteps of the most successful Christmas film and most successful comedy ever – is worth approaching with wariness. It’s not phoned in by the returning team of writer John Hughes and director Christopher Columbus – indeed, the idea of bringing the action to New York City is smart – but by the end of its too-long 2 hours, it’s clearly a step down.
One of the many pleasures of 1990’s “Home Alone” is the tight screenplay, where Hughes goes to the effort to explain how the McCallisters could forget Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) at home, and it’s almost more fun this time because Hughes has to explain how they could possibly do it again. So when Kevin follows someone wearing the same coat as his dad onto a plane to New York, it’s equal parts plot logistics and a winking collaboration between the film and its fans.
My childhood memory was that this is a moodier film, and that memory is accurate. Cinematographer Julio Macat wonderfully captures the danger of Central Park after dark, with nice touches from Hughes and Columbus such as a homeless man cackling to Kevin: “Watch where yer goin’ kid!”
Too much of the pleasures of “Home Alone 2” are gleaned from repeating old riffs, but they are pleasures just the same. And it’s nice to see Kevin has grown. After the obligatory moment of him screaming in terror at the Crazy Pigeon Lady (Brenda Fricker), he stops, turns around and talks to her – and we realize he has learned a lesson from a year earlier: You don’t have to be scared of all strangers.
But of course he has plenty of reason to be scared of Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), now known as the Sticky Bandits and still the best part of this franchise as Kevin draws them into his traps in a brownstone under renovation.
“Home Alone 2” is notably more violent than the original (which was also criticized on that point). If the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel kowtowed to every critique about violence in kids’ movies, this one doubles down. Marv gets absolutely brutalized. The first brick to the forehead could’ve killed him, but instead he survives three more bricks to the head, and a 100-pound bag of something to the face, and countless multi-story falls, plus he gets electrocuted.
Again, Stern is a master at such scenes, and I laughed a lot. Columbus and his team do make things more cartoonish – note the sound effects when Marv pulls the staples out of his skin, and the absurd image of Harry doing a gymnastics move in order to position his flaming head over a toilet bowl to douse it. Even so, I cringe at some of the things that happen to them, and also at the idea of a young viewer watching this violence.
Speaking of over-the-top violence, we get a welcome continuation of the noir crime drama from which Kevin gleans lines to scare off visitors, “Angels with Filthier Souls.”
Comedic stalwarts Tim Curry and Rob Schneider are serviceable as the baffled employees of the hotel where a 9-year-old checks in, and Fricker and Eddie Bracken (as a kindly toy store owner) provide this sequel with the requisite holiday heart.
But the McCallister family has nothing to do in Miami, where it’s raining, and there’s not much return-to-Kevin drama for Kate (Catherine O’Hara) this time. Hughes gives audiences the gags we demand, such as the parents having to admit to the police that yes, this has happened before. “Home Alone 2” is rarely surprising, but its Christmastime NYC looks beautiful and foreboding, and it often proves that formula can be fun.