Courtesy / Netflix
The world has changed in the 27 years since Pee-wee Herman’s laugh last honked across the big screen. Walls have fallen and towers have crumbled. But when creator and portrayer Paul Reubens’ latest Pee-wee outing, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” landed on Netflix Friday, the grey-clad, bowtie-sporting manchild proved to have remained dutifully divorced from the passage of time — and from reality as a whole. Which, lucky enough, is where Pee-wee thrives best.
Working as a line cook in the Cleaver-esque town of Fairville, U.S.A., Pee-wee still starts each morning in his signature Rube Goldberg fashion, complete with skis on the roof and bottle rockets strategically placed across the route of his morning commute.
His life of picture-perfect routine is soon dashed by the breakup of his band and the arrival of motorcycle-riding hunk and “Magic Mike” actor, Joe Manganiello, playing himself. The two soon bond over the mutual love of miniature root beer-barrel candies, kickstarting a bromance that never quite teeters over the line of subtle homoeroticism, but certainly encourages the audiences to let their minds wander in that direction. (I think they’d be super cute together.) Soon Pee-wee is invited to Joe’s birthday party in New York, and he sheds his small-town tethers to make the journey.
Skirting lines between kid-friendly and overtly sexual has been as much a part of Pee-wee as his signature suit and tie, and “Big Holiday” is no exception. He and Joe joust each other in slow motion with giant red-and-white paper straws while sparklers twirl in the background, and his impish charm sparks the eyes of a farmer’s nine daughters who pay him a visit in a farmhouse bedroom at night. As always, any appropriated sexual tension built is dismissed with a honked-out laugh and a quick scurry in the direction of a new gag.
The trip across the country is as eccentric and zany as ever, but no one portion or character along the way quite lives up to the classic faces and places encountered in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” A several minutes-long take of Pee-wee delighting an Amish audience with a squealing balloon embodied the series’ willingness to depart from any sort of cohesive story to get a laugh, but still — it’s no big-shoe dance.
Ruebens, now 63, has relied on some movie-making magic (and a few digital touch-ups) to recapture the sprightly vigor of his famous character, but the rest of the movie is cloaked in a retro feel that fans of the show and the first movie will appreciate. It’s a little lighter on the laughs than previous entries, but it pulls no punches in absurdity. Newcomers might find it weird and slightly uncomfortable, but the same was true for an audience first sitting down to “Big Adventure” in 1985.
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