Co-written by Paul Rust and Paul Reubens (who is Pee Wee Herman) and directed by John Lee, Pee Wee Herman’s Big Holiday is meant to be an amusing revisit to the world that made Reubens a house hold name. Unfortunately the trip falls short of capturing the spirit of the original and despite a few laughs here and there misses the absurd humor that made Pee Wee’s Big Adventure so much fun.
In fact, the 1985 film has a lot in common with this latest offering from Reubens. In the first, co-written with the late Phil Hartman and MIchael Varhol (who appears to have vanished off the face of the earth after 1989), Pee Wee (Reubens) also has a vehicle stolen (his beloved bike) and goes across the U.S. in search of it.
The plot of Pee Wee Herman’s Big Holiday has Pee Wee upset that his band has broken up and being comforted by meeting a “10 year-old ” version of Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike, True Blood) who seems to be a spiritual twin to the “ageless” Pee Wee. The two bond over root beer barrels (Pee Wee and Joe’s favorite sweet) and take a tour of Fairville.
Manganiello is a vision of a Rebel’s Without a Cause motorcyclist, complete with slightly stained t-shirt and old fashioned bucket-style helmet. Joe is so taken with Pee Wee that he invites his new best friend to his birthday party that will take place in New York City. Pee Wee protests that he has never left Fairville before and he has no idea what is beyond the town’s borders.
This is, however, a lie. As fans of the earlier film can attest, Pee Wee traveled all over the country hunting for his bike. Sidenote: Herman even went to Texas, as one of the funnier scenes (as a sort of throwaway gag) was in a bar and the punchline was all the customers singing one line from “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Granted 1985 was a long time ago, but in a world with DVD and Internet streaming of films available across the world, it might just as well be yesterday.
There are parts of the film that work comically. Sadly, like the aging Reubens, most of the gags were a tad old. Not to say that the actor is past it, he is rather fascinating on Gotham at the moment, but he should most likely put Pee Wee to pasture. Although to be fair, that high-pitched scream still delights and the scene where he is let off the bus while still screaming after the “monster room” is very chuckle-worthy.
It should be mentioned that having Christopher Heyerdahl (Hell on Wheels, True Blood) as Ezekiel in “The Amish” bit was a lovely touch.
Other parts of the film jar. The farmer’s daughter gag was heavy-handed and could be seen as a rather nasty poke at women who fall in that XXL range. The flying car “sketch” (with another carry-over from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure the actress Diane Salinger)which featured Diane channelling her inner Katherine Hepburn as Amelia Earhart just seemed pointless and a bit dated.
In terms of “outdated” content, there was a reference to “Grizzly Adams” (played by the recently deceased Dan Haggerty) and the character of Pepper (Jessica Pohly) was the spitting image of the late Amy Winehouse, both these just felt wrong somehow. Although this may be more of an issue of “dating” the writers; perhaps having a 63 year-old on the writing team is not necessarily a good thing.
The biggest drawback in the film is actually Reubens. However he does it, the performer has smooth skin, literally wrinkle free, either via the auspices of makeup laid on with a trowel or some other, more painful, means. This, combined with the pink cheeks, lipstick and plastered hair, renders Pee Wee more creepy than cute.
Pee Wee Herman’s life cycle seems frozen in time and so too is his appeal. There are many who still count Paul Reubens’ character as a favorite and that is perfectly fine. Not having been a fan “back in the day” allows one the freedom to be a little more unbiased in terms of entertainment value.
The appeal of this character, this child-man (versus man-child) is puzzling. Certainly the character has his moments but… As one critic points out in the Variety review of Reuben’s latest outing as Pee Wee, the performer’s checkered past dims the offering considerably.
Overall, Pee Wee Herman’s Big Holiday is not big enough to be presented in theaters. Netflix is probably the best venue for this nostalgic journey from Fairville to New York. The film’s director John Lee does a capable job but there is nothing special to see here, just the rehashing of an old plot.
This is an amusing film and there are moments where one laughs out loud at the kookiness of a gag but the comedy is not overwhelmingly funny or clever. Reubens is a fine actor, as he has proven time and again, outside the Pee Wee persona. It may well be that this should the last hurrah for the little child-man and that is not a bad thing at all.
It would be sad to see the next feature from Paul Reubens be Pee Wee’s Big Waste of Time.