Alone For Christmas

Director: Joseph J. Lawson
Peter DeLuise, Kim Little, Davis Cleveland, Kevin Sorbo

Well, the Christmas holiday season will soon be among us, so as you interact with various people in your life, the question comes up as to what you'll be doing during the holiday season. Most likely than not, there's at least one thing on your "to do" list that is something you like doing during every Christmas holiday. In other words, a tradition. For me, one tradition I have had for a number of years is to have a turkey dinner with many of the other tenants of the apartment building that I live in. But I don't really want to talk about traditions like that one. Instead, I want to talk about one kind of Christmas tradition many people have that fits the content of this web site. That being of having the tradition of rewatching certain movies during the holidays. Some choices are pretty easy. For example, I know that there are many people who have the holiday tradition of rewatching the movie A Christmas Story. The reasons are easy to deduce - it's Christmas-themed, it's nostalgic, and it's both funny and touching enough to have become a classic. But there are some other movies that are a little harder to figure out why they have become Christmas traditions. One such movie is It's A Wonderful Life. Yes, it's considered a classic, and it takes place (partly) during Christmas... but it also has quite a dark edge when you think about it. But that cinematic choice seems quite logical compared to some other movies many people have chosen to rewatch during Christmas. I know for a fact that there are a number of people who like to watch Die Hard (and Die Hard 2) during Christmas. Yes, both movies are entertaining, and take place during Christmas... though the amount of violence in both of those movies doesn't seem to make them right for a holiday celebrating the savoir of mankind.

But when you think about, almost all movies that have been chosen by the public to be Christmas holiday traditions don't really celebrate what the holiday was originally meant to. That includes two certain movies that I really want to talk about, two movies that were massively popular at the time of their theatrical releases and are played to death on multiple television channels every Christmas. I am talking about Home Alone and Home Alone 2. The mass popularity of these movies every holiday season, more than just about any other Christmas movie tradition, may seem puzzling at first. But when you think about it, it doesn't take long to figure out several possible reasons. One reason is that both movies were carefully crafted so that they wouldn't age badly over subsequent years; there's very little in both movies that dates them to the 1990s, so both new and familiar viewers can enjoy them. Second, the core idea of both movies - a youngster forced to partake in activities that you would associate with someone who is older - is one that not only children enjoy seeing, but also adults who remember when they were young and wanted to be treated as someone fully grown. Third, the fact that both movies are set during the Christmas holiday season made the movies special in the eyes of viewers. Had the first or second movie been set before or after Christmas, I don't think they would have been as well received by the general public. Indeed, when Home Alone 3 was released - which I believe was not set during the Christmas season like the first two movies - it did nowhere as well as the first two movies. 20th Century Fox did seem to learn a lesson from that movie; the next two instalments in the series (made for television) were again set during Christmas, which probably explains why they are played multiple times on television every Christmas like the first two instalments of the series.

The good amount of money that has to be made with the Home Alone movies airing every Christmas probably has made more than one Hollywood executive wonder if the formula could be cloned or ripped off. Well, it hasn't happened all that much, probably because those executives Alone For Christmasare afraid of being sued by 20th Century Fox. And the few times when it has happened, the clones have typically not made the crucial choice of setting their stories during Christmas (for example, 3 Ninjas). But leave it to the low budget B movie studios to give it a shot. Recently, I came across a copy of their movie Alone For Christmas, which promised to be a blatant rip-off of Home Alone that was set during Christmas. They did make one major change to the story, probably so they wouldn't get sued. The change was that the protagonist playing the person who defends their house from burglars was this time played by a dog. A dog? Let me explain by telling you the movie's plot. In the first part of the movie, we are introduced to the Conley family, with the heads of the family played by David DeLuise (Vampires Suck) and Kim Little (Supercroc). The Conley family has two dogs, a Boston terrier named Columbus and an Australian cattle dog named Bone. Columbus is very mischievous, and his antics close to Christmas eventually get the innocent Bone blamed for the messy results. The Conleys decide that as punishment, Bone will be left behind at a kennel while the Conleys and Columbus go out of town for the holidays. What the Conleys don't know is that burglars have been casing their home and plan to rob it while the Conley family is away. Bone learns of the burglars' plans, and decides it's up to him to escape from the kennel and protect the family home while his masters are away.

In my opinion, a Home Alone style movie really depends on its central protagonist to work, which may explain why I generally loathe these types of movies. To me, these movies tend to boast protagonists that are annoying to a significant degree. Even the original movie that started it all I found problematic; while Macaulay Culkin was okay during the quieter and serious moments, he came across as quite obnoxious when abusing those two burglars. The fact that Alone For Christmas deals with a canine protagonist instead of your typical precocious youth does instantly lessen the annoyance; it's much harder for filmmakers to make a dog obnoxious than a kid. But that doesn't mean that the portrait of the dog in the movie is not without fault. For starters, when Bone makes his way home and starts to make life hell for the burglars, he's actually offscreen a lot of the time. Maybe the filmmakers realized that, since they try to compensate for Bone's frequent absence by giving him the power of speech, which he uses when he's with other dogs. But I had the same problem with this fact as I do with all movies that deal with animals that can talk and/or think like humans. When Bone talks, we discover that he is well-versed and can understand humans quite well; he even knows some Shakespeare. The inevitable problem that comes up is that if Bone can think and reason just like a human, why doesn't he act more human? Why doesn't he, for example, use his brain to communicate with his human masters that he's been given a raw deal when he's punished for something he didn't do? Why not grab a pencil with his mouth and draw on a piece of paper? For that matter, why is he content to be a pet instead of someone with equal footing in the household? Why act like a dumb dog for the most part?

Yes, I realize that Alone For Christmas is primarily aimed at children, and maybe I shouldn't be thinking of questions I posed in the paragraph above. But children today are smart and sophisticated, and I suspect many of them will be asking questions like those. I also have a feeling that many of them will also question the portrayal of the humans in the movie. When it comes to the members of Bone's human family, the level of writing is quite thin. The household's two children seem quite dumb; the son (Davis Cleveland, Shake It Up!) believes that Bone will risk being "shanked" when he is in the kennel. The two parents are so thin, they aren't even given any names, with the two actors being simply labelled "Mom" and "Dad" in the closing credits. For that matter, two of the burglars who break into the house aren't named until well over an hour of the running time has passed. But naming them earlier wouldn't have helped much, since they are your typical numbskull burglars, ones who hope that the house they are about to burglarize has an Easy Bake oven so they can make some tasty treats. The most disappointing aspect of the burglars is who they call in at one point when Bone's traps start to get the best of them. Burglar Jake (Jeremy Mascia) calls in his cousin Quentin, who is played by Kevin Sorbo of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Those who wonder why Sorbo's career slowly faded after that show will find some possible answers here. He looks extremely old and tired, and his performance is strictly on autopilot. And he doesn't appear in much of the movie at all, maybe about ten minutes in total before he exits the movie in an especially abrupt and awkward manner that will have many viewers wonder just what exactly happened.

As it turns out, Alone For Christmas has several more abrupt and awkward moments that don't make a heck of a lot of sense, like when Bone is eventually captured by the burglars. In fact, the movie has quite a few other shoddy touches throughout. I will say that the movie is fairly well photographed for a cheapo Asylum production such as this, and the CGI animated mouth movements of the talking dogs are quite good. Otherwise, the movie more often than not comes as bargain basement material, such as the few (very) small patches of snow that are seen outside look like someone poured a little salt before shooting commenced. (And while it's supposed to be winter, all the trees still have their leaves.) Younger kids probably won't mind the low rent look of the entire enterprise. They may even be tickled by the movie's attempts at humor, but I suspect their older siblings and their parents will find the Home Alone antics in this movie pretty lame. I will say that director Joseph J. Lawson (Nazis At The Center Of The Earth) for the most part directs the slapstick without the distracting sadistic edge Home Alone was guilty of, but that's about all that's positive to say about his direction. The slapstick comes across as clumsy and labored, lacking proper timing and choreography. A bigger problem, however, is that there is too much Home Alone shenanigans. Believe it or not, the fighting Bone the dog goes through to save his masters' home goes on for about an hour of the total running time. After a while, it gets pretty tiring seeing the movie repeat itself over and over. To sum up, Alone For Christmas is a pretty poor holiday family movie, one that is missing the words, "Leave this movie..." in front of its title. For that matter, it's a movie to avoid any other time of the year as well.

(Posted November 16, 2019)

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See also: Eyes Of An Angel, Santa With Muscles, Two Bits & Pepper