(On DVD, November 2016) By the time sequels abandon the main cast and repeat the plot formula of their predecessor verbatim, it’s clear that the creativity has gone out of the series. To be fair, Home Alone 2 went through amazing contortions to repeat the first film’s structure, so it’s not as if Home Alone 3 is an outlier. Still, it starts again with a new kid, new antagonists (spies!) and leads to the familiar slapstick accumulation of elaborate traps vastly beyond our protagonist’s time and abilities. At least the traps don’t always feel as gratuitously violent as the second one, even though some material still skirts attempted murder. Home Alone 3 sort-of-works, but it does feel like a faded copy of the original, minus a bunch of the material that gave substance to the first film (and to a lesser extent, the second). This workmanlike film is most interesting at the edges of the cast list; a thirteen-year-old Scarlett Johansson briefly shows up as a bratty sister, while kids-movie director Raja Gosnell here makes his feature film debut. Otherwise, it is what it wants to be: a clone of the original Home Alone, except without Christmas, without memorable villains, and without the freshness of the original idea. I suspect that most copies of Home Alone 3 will be, like mine, sold in DVD collections as a bonus to its first two better predecessors. See it if you enjoy that kind of thing; otherwise don’t.
(On DVD, March 2016) When I say that The Smurfs 2 seems more tolerable than the first film, I’m not arguing that it’s actually better. I’m probably just reflecting on my recent (re) discovery of an entire film subgenre: the kiddy-comedies that rely on computer animation to portray animals and magical creatures as actors in ridiculous adventures. I’m thinking about the Alvin and the Chipmunks series; the Beverly Hills Chihuahua trilogy; and many others following the massive success of 1995’s Babe. Set against the best of movies aimed at the younger set, The Smurfs 2 is a piece of trash: contrived, ridiculous, ham-fisted, almost offensive in how it assumes that its audience will accept anything. But set against the second tier of movies for kids, The Smurfs 2 suddenly doesn’t look too bad. While I still feel that its CGI portrayal of Smurfs is an abomination compared to the classic animated series, it doesn’t look all that bad against the live-action backdrops. (The less said about testicle jokes, the better.) While Neal Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson are wasting their talents in this film, they do bring a bit of respectability to the proceedings. (Hank Azaria, on the other hand, is perfectly on target as Gargamel.) Director Raja Gosnell is an old hand at this kind of filmmaking, so it’s not a surprise that The Smurfs 2 has a few relatively competent set pieces, playing to bouncy pop music. (I note, though, that the inevitably tragic end of the runaway Ferris wheel sequence is smoothly omitted) Am I, adult reviewer, capitulating against the film’s unbearableness by making comparative excuses? Almost certainly. But, for some reason, this one didn’t seem as awful as the first. And it’s got plenty of company in its sub-genre.