Pee-wee's Big Holiday (2016) / Comedy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for mild innuendo and language
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), Joe Manganiello, Richard Riehle, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz, Hal Landon Jr., Paul Rust, Diane Salinger, Frank Collison
Small role: David Arquette
Director: John Lee
Screenplay: Paul Reubens, Paul Rust
Review published March 21, 2016
Fans of Pee-Wee Herman will be ecstatic to see him back in a full-length feature film, albeit on made and shown directly for world-class streaming service Netflix for its subscribers to enjoy. Because of this, there is a decidedly made-for-TV feel to it, but it's still quite enjoyable for those who aren't expecting Tim Burton's visionary direction, an ingenious Danny Elfman score, or fun celebrity cameos.
Although Pee-wee has appeared in two theatrical solo adventures in the 1980s, Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-wee, this film is not a direct sequel to either of those films (which were not connected either, come to think of it). In fact, this film seems to go out of its way to ignore those storylines outright by introducing us to a Pee-wee Herman who has never left his hometown of Fairville to see anything beyond its city limits, save for a harrowing botched attempt to go to Salt Lake City that nipped his wanderlust in the bud. While at work as a cook in a local diner, Pee-wee meets and hits it off with Joe Manganiello (Sabotage), playing a comic version of himself, who encourages the perpetual man-child to get out and see what's out there by inviting him to attend his swanky birthday party in a few days in New York City.
Judd Apatow (Trainwreck) does lend his name as a producer of this sequel-in-spirit to his other movies, which also begins with a dream sequence followed by an elaborate, contraption-filled morning wake-up routine that would make Rube Goldberg proud. Also like his other films, Pee-wee's Big Holiday plays mostly as a collection of amusing, loose-hanging vignettes in which Pee-wee encounters new sets of endearingly off-center characters, from a trio of female bank robbers, a farmer with a bevy of unwed and man-hungry daughters, a zany gadget salesman, a reclusive mountain man, an Amish community, and an eccentric heiress. There's probably more beefcake and cheesecake moments than prior Pee-wee vehicles, but there isn't anything overtly sexualized about them, save for what you bring into seeing a shirtless Manganiello, who really gives the film his all in a very ingratiating way, or a gag involving male strippers. There seems to be a very understated homoerotic vibe to this film, particularly between Pee-wee and his man-crush, Manganiello, but, if intentional, it never tips its hand in a blatantly obvious way.
In the role that has defined his career, Paul Reubens (Reno 911!: Miami) fits comfortably back in with his famous character. He's a little less energetic and a little more a homebody introvert this time around, but he's generally the same character, and 63-year-old Reubens still looks remarkably not much older in the role, despite thirty years since Pee-wee's Big Adventure introduced many to the iconic big-screen version of his stage and stand-up persona. Reubens wrote the script with screenwriting partner Paul Rust, who also collaborated on a Pee-wee flick in the past with 2011's HBO special, The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway. Behind the camera is John Lee, a veteran of television fare who is directing his first feature film, and he does two things right: first, he's able to maintain the campy, comic tone throughout all of the various encounters along the way, and second, he doesn't try to copycat the Tim Burton classic in style, and yet it still feels very much like a Pee-wee Herman flick in its formula.
Pee-wee's Big Holiday is more of a comfort-food flick for fans than something those who are uninitiated need go out of their way to see. It's not really a knee-slapping comedy, but it definitely delivers enough mild chuckles and knowing smiles to make this a worthwhile new adventure for longtime fans of the titular perpetual boy-at-heart.
©2016 Vince Leo