Pee-Wee's Big Holiday
2016 bromantic comedy
Plot: Pee-Wee meets a new cool friend who invites him to his birthday party in New York City and inspires him to live a little. Pee-Wee embarks on a cross-country trip where he has various misadventures.
The (now-trilogic) Pee-Wee movies really don't have anything to do with each other. The circus one has the guy living on a farm like he's been there all his life even though there's no mention of a farm in the first one. This one has the character talking about how he's never traveled or even been outside his town's limits when we all know he went looking for the basement of the Alamo in his big adventure. There aren't recurring characters, and other than his quirks, mannerisms, naivete, and iconic outfit, he doesn't even really seem like the same character. It almost lends credence to the idea that Pee-Wee has been a schizophrenic middle-aged man all along.
This wasn't any worse or any better than I figured it would be. I was excited about the return of the character because I always liked Pee-Wee, but a straight-to-Netflix directed by a John Lee who had only done television (including 17 episodes of Wonder Showzen) didn't feel all that promising. I couldn't imagine this thing having much of a budget, and despite the co-writer having some involvement in one of my favorite t.v. shows (Arrested Development), I just didn't have the highest of expectations.
What did surprise me was how they didn't go into the thing with a more interesting concept. Pee-Wee on yet-another road trip to get to his new friend Joe Manganiello's birthday party in the big city? That's the best they could come up with? And Joe Manganiello, complete with a reference to Magic Mike, is the best new friend they could find to participate in these shenanigans? Like, his first feature film, Pee-Wee's adventure is episodic, but it's more hit and miss here, and every beat kind of feels like something that's been done before. Pee-Wee meets a trio of women criminals, he encounters drama with a farmer and his lovely daughters, he visits a snake farm where the attraction seems to be ridiculously bad puns, he rolls with some traveling hair stylists and gets his own new hairdo, rides in a flying car, stumbles upon a grizzly hermit, and he befriends the Amish. Whereas the first movie ends with a delirious and wacky denouement, in this one, something just happens. It's Freudian and silly simultaneously, but after all the nearly-interesting misadventures leading up to it, you still kind of want to shrug and say, "That's it?"
There are still enough moments to make this worth a watch. The most memorable bits of the other two movies and the series are inspired by lunacy. When this travels into more creative areas, it's a mixed bag. An opening dream sequence with an E.T.-type lump of bad special effect would have almost made me want to give up if I wasn't a fan of the character going in. Then, a Rube Goldberg-esque series of gags where Pee-Wee is thrown into his day and visits various townsfolk before going to his job is kind of fun. There's this odd 50's vibe to the character's surroundings in his hometown, like a forgotten part of America that fell asleep before the turbulent 60s and just barely woke up, the kind of place where everybody waves at each other and nobody thinks a person like Pee-Wee Herman is the slightest bit disturbing. Dream sequences inexplicably in Spanish and with gratuitous sparkler action; a big musical number celebrating the Big Apple, seemingly a parody of On the Town and including a funny bit about the Empire State Building being the "world's tallest building;" the homoeroticism of the character's relationship with Joe (his extraction from a vaginal well, the forced near-touching of foreheads in a tiny tree house while they suck root beer barrel candy through straws); hallucinating Abe Lincoln, the Queen, and a devil Pee-Wee while trapped in the well; and a trio of female bank robbers (Jessica Pohly, a hot little Pepper; Stephanie Beatriz, and Alla Shawkat) who are almost like characters from a Russ Meyer movie. Other fun bits include a moment when Pee-Wee gets religious, a question about whether that aforementioned criminal threesome are witches, and a juvenile Amish/gesundheit gag that's repeated ad nauseam are other highlights.
But nothing compares to a scene that is easily the greatest moment in Netflix original movie history and quite possibly--and I don't mean this hyperbolically--the greatest thing I've ever seen in a movie. It's the kind of thing that you want to show to everybody, just randomly find people on the street, shake them, and shove your iPhone in their faces so that they can be a part of the magic. And that scene is involves a balloon and a group of Amish people. It's a work of genius, should have been the trailer for the movie, and will likely end up as the thing that Reubens is best remembered for. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've watched the scene 27 times already. About three-fourths of those times involved an act that would have gotten me arrested if I was caught doing it in a theater.
Reubens himself does everything he can with the character although the voice seems a little off. He's aged, but he hasn't done so physically. The mannerisms are there, the laugh is there, and the facial expressions that keep your eyes glued to the guy are there. He's spirited enough and can still pull off this awkward manchildish character well at the age of 60-whatever. I just wish he had a better story to wander around in. And I wish that that very unfortunate arrest and Reubens' loss of interest in the character wouldn't have temporarily expired the character during the remaining years of his prime because I know Big Top Pee-Wee wasn't the only thing left in that tank.
Mark Mothersbaugh did the music for this, by the way, and the score is relentless. I seem to recall that that's consistent with the other movies, but it didn't make it any less obnoxious.