Friday, March 25, 2016

Pee Wee's Big Holiday

You wonder about the target audience for Pee Wee Herman's (ne Paul Reubens) first movie in nearly thirty years, PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY. Children, sure, even if they've never heard of him.  Even if they think he's some creepy old guy.  And certainly the film is aimed at those who remember his colorful T.V. show and the iconic PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE film from the '80s.  Over the years, there had been rumors that a more "adult" Pee Wee film was in the making, but perhaps good sense (and marketing savvy) won out and now we have a new, mostly kid friendly romp starring the perpetual child in a grown up (60 + year old!) body.

PEE WEE'S BIG HOLIDAY, which debuted on Netflix on March 18th, has a similar structure to the much beloved ....BIG ADVENTURE movie.  Rather than setting out cross country to find his stolen bike, Pee Wee leaves his hamlet of Fairville for the first time to attend the NYC birthday party of his new best pal, actor Joe Manganiello (playing himself quite amiably).  Fairville, by the way, seems to be stuck in the 1950s.  It's a perfect decade for Pee Wee's brand of humor: all squeaky clean, conservative, and innocent, but with several winks and nudges suggesting that all may not be so G-rated.  It's impossible not to wonder what a collaboration between Reubens and David Lynch would look like.

Pee Wee learns quickly that life outside Fairville is not all sweetness and light.  Almost immediately his car is hijacked by three female bank robbers who seem modeled after characters in Russ Myers' FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! But there is also a salesman of gag gifts (my favorite part of this movie), a farmer with an army of  marriage minded daughters, some flamboyant hairdressers on their way to a contest,  a kooky lady (Diane Salinger, fondly remembered from BIG ADVENTURE) who pilots a flying car, and a stopover in an Amish community.  For the latter, Pee Wee teaches them the joys of letting air out of a balloon, s   l  o  w  l   y.   But when the film reaches the episode with the mountain man, everything kinda fizzles.  The energy (and laughs) wane a bit.

But Reubens and co-writer Paul Rust have enough funny ideas to sustain its hour and a half, even when the pace flags.  Director John Lee may be no Tim Burton (even as he tries to outdo the former's Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions in Pee Wee's house and neighborhood), but does a good enough job to make this almost a must for any Pee Wee devotee.  Latter day revisits to hallowed territory are almost always somewhat disappointing, but that Reubens keeps Pee Wee alive and silly as ever is just about enough to make critical viewers forgive the missteps, like a pillow fight involving male strippers.
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