Home Alone 3

Never underestimate the tenacity of Hollywood. It seemed almost certain that with Macaulay Culkin all grown-up and off to rehab, the Home Alone series was destined to become a throwaway line in some hipster geek's production about pop culture-obsessed crooks. Wrong. Installment 3 is upon us and the snickers of irony will have to wait.

Writer-creator John Hughes has decided to go déclassé this time out. The flush '80s are long gone, baby. In the original, little Kevin suffered at the bottom of a heap of precocious brats in a swank Chicago suburb. In the second outing, the tot lives it up at the Plaza. In 3, we have Alex, a cutie with only two siblings and a pair of workaholic yuppie parents in a decidedly middle-class suburb. Alex catches the chicken pox, a convenient affliction for a little boy being hunted down by a quartet of bungling Eurotrash spies who suspect a secret weapon's microchip is hidden in his toy car. With everyone downtown slaving over a hot laptop, our hero must defend himself as the spies move from house to house, zeroing in on their target.

If this all sounds tired, it is, but not enough to prevent the film from being a good bit of fun. Alex Linz, last seen in One Fine Day, is personable enough, and when the spies come a-callin', he displays a flair for innovative sadism. The pratfalls and sight gags that made the previous sequels watchable have been given a tweak to bring them up to date with the marvels of home electronics. But mercifully not to the point where the hardware overshadows humor. The kid is a whiz with a remote control and an extension cord, yet still knows the value of a well-placed little red wagon and booby-trapped teddy bear. Rookie director Raja Gosnell keeps the pace rolling with a bare minimum of the cloying sentimentality that marred the first two, set as they were during that sweepstakes of psychic distress, Christmas.

Still, in America, where kiddies' innocence is at stake, there's bound to be hand-wringing about parents' roles in the process. No doubt there are a couple of sociology dissertations already in the works studying how the tyke empowers himself with the very technology that was supposed to free his suburbanite folks from the tyranny of the office and yuppie guilt. So what. Kids are so techno-savvy and precocious that they've already dialed into the irony that the Nintendo they play today will be the desktop they curse tomorrow.

Our hero Alex certainly enjoys his freedom while he has it. Home Alone is the place to be.

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