IT'S NOT "MIRACLE on 34th Street." It's not "It's a Wonderful Life" or "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." Although scenes from all three are shown in "Home Alone," this holiday contender from John Hughes is too crass, too loud and too violent to be added blithely to Christmas viewing traditions.
But it is funny. And it will be a hit -- at least this year.
In "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," Hughes comically exploited the travails of holiday travel. In "Home Alone," he returns to the seat of all childhood repression -- apparently an upper-class suburb of Chicago -- for a hyperactive comedy about the spirit of Christmas Absent. Eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin of "Uncle Buck") is inadvertently left home alone when his family jets to Paris for Christmas. On his block are empty tract mansions with timer-operated Christmas lights, a scary shovel-wielding neighbor and two cat burglars who've discovered residential catnip.
While Mom and Dad (Cathleen O'Hara and John Heard) struggle with such seemingly impassable obstacles as airline employees and native French speakers, Kevin is happily indulging in some preteen risky business: videos, sundaes and sled rides. Unfortunately, the burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) are determined to take similar advantage of his parents' absence. Kevin manages to ward them off in two clever-silly scenes (plus a hilarious trial run on an unsuspecting pizza delivery boy), but the third time's the harm. from previous page
If you've seen the ads, you've seen most of the clever-ugly boobytrapping that Kevin concocts. Hughes goes beyond the innocent comedy of pratfalls on slippery ice to show us a hand being seared on a red-hot doorknob, a scalp being blowtorched and feet being impaled on shattered Christmas ornaments. As if these stigmata aren't enough, the thieves are also in Kevin's line of fire for BB gunshots to the crotch and forehead. What next, Charlton Heston appearing as a gun-wielding Santa whose elves like to take target practice?
Although the escalation of violence is unnerving, the movie's other flaws are more typical of Hughes's films. Kevin's siblings and extended family are unrelentingly unattractive and mean, his parents neglect him and he's precocious to the point of sitcom cute. John Candy appears as a helpful polka-band has-been (would-be?), but is so low-key that his bits are swept away by the frenetic garishness of Kevin's scenes. The film's best gags are repeated, and the comedy stops altogether for an obligatory heartwarming scene in which the child is father to the man.
Unlike the similarly cynical "Scrooged," though, "Home Alone" skips the treacle ending to let anti-sentiment have the last laugh. It's one you'll have anticipated -- but you may want to laugh anyway. You won't be too busy wiping away tears.
HOME ALONE (PG) -- Area theaters.