Four high-tech industrial spies obtain a top-secret computer chip designed for missile-guidance systems. They hide the item in a remote-control toy car, to smuggle it past airport security on their way to a Hong Kong rendezvous. Through a baggage mix-up, toy winds up in the hands of grumpy old Mrs. Hess (Marian Seldes), who in turn gives it to a neighbor, 8-year-old Alex, just before the spies arrive in the neighborhood. Working out of a rented house, the baddies set out to burglarize each home on Alex’s street, hoping to find the toy car before their North Korean client runs out of patience.
Fortunately, Alex comes down with the chicken pox, allowing him to remain home from school and observe the activities outside his window. Unfortunately, each time he spots a burglary in progress and calls 911, the spies cover their tracks and escape before the police arrive. Alex’s parents and siblings — and, of course, the police — accuse him of making prank phone calls. And that’s why, when the spies finally narrow their search to Alex’s home, our young hero feels compelled to take matters into his own little hands.
Evidently, Alex has spent a great deal of time studying the previous “Home Alone” movies. Either that, or he’s naturally sadistic. Whatever the reason, Alex manages to rig all manner of cunning booby traps in and around his house, to trip, hobble, pummel, electrocute and otherwise humiliate the supposedly brainy spies.
Predictably, the spies endure more relentless punishment than Wile E. Coyote on a bad day. And while the tone is always frenetically comedic, and the mayhem bloodlessly slapsticky, some scenes are, even by “Home Alone” standards, pretty rough.
Another troublesome matter is the fact that, in recent years, the term “Home Alone” has been used as a kind of journalistic shorthand for highly publicized cases of child neglect. Perhaps mindful of this, Hughes goes out of his way to justify the convenient absences of Alex’s working parents.
Newcomer Linz, a veteran of some two dozen TV commercials, is far too slick and smart-mouthed to seem vulnerable in the lead role. Haviland Morris and Kevin Kilner are forgettably bland as Alex’s parents, while Seth Smith and Scarlett Johansson are passably unpleasant as the youngster’s older siblings. Seldes is nicely cranky as Mrs. Hess.
Among the four spies, Olek Krupa is a standout. Even when he looks like a raccoon after being spray-painted by Alex, he still conveys a welcome touch of believable menace. (This is the first time, by the way, that villains in a “Home Alone” movie actually brandish guns.) David Thornton comes closest to repeating the thick-witted villainy of the bumbling burglars played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in the earlier films. Rounding out the rogues’ gallery, Lenny Von Dohlen and Rya Kihlstedt demonstrate grace and resilience while taking elaborate pratfalls.
Raja Gosnell, editor of the previous two series entries, makes his debut here as a feature director, although there is little doubt that Hughes, who produced and wrote the by-the-numbers screenplay, is the auteur of the project. Considering the important roles they play in this production, stunt coordinators R.A. Rondell and Freddie Hice deserve star billing. Much of their work is undeniably ingenious, and cinematographer Julio Macat showcases it to good effect. Production designer Henry Bumstead makes an equally important contribution: He provides a family home that appears to be well worth defending.