Originally written for scenome.com
When Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday begins with the most boring title credit sequence in modern film history, which is then followed up by Pee-Wee
saying farewell to an animatronic, butt-headed alien friend, I thought this would be a nostalgic but still wildly creative, oddball romp. Seeing as how its been 30 years since Pee-Wee’s last major cinematic outing and star Paul Ruebens provided half the script that would be the hope for any fan. But I was wrong. Oh Lord and mercy, how I was wrong.
If the movie’s absurd intro was symbolic of anything, it was of the shriek you hear next door before ambulances and cop cars race down the street. A crime has been committed here: Pee-Wee Herman has been neutered. Gone are the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure days, when everything he did and surrounded himself with was surreal, whimsical, and wondrous. His house was filled with inventions, toys, gizmos, and, best of all, the loveable Pee-Wee himself. Now, he has one invention that gets him out of bed in the morning. The rest of his house looks like something Tim Allen would live in if he remained a cocaine-addict. Did Pee-Wee have to sell all his toys to pay for home-owners insurance or something?
That being said, the beginning of the movie does have the trademarks of Pee-Wee creator and co-writer Paul Ruebans. Pee-Wee drives a comically small car to work and activates a series of ingenious and hilariously unnecessary gadgets along the way (my favorite involving him helping himself to a breakfast buffet, only to take one bite). But where is he headed off to this fine day? Toy store? A magic show? No, he’s going to work. Work? Since when did Pee-Wee Herman get a job? Is the economy that bad that the beacon of innocence in an otherwise monotonous world has to find work at a diner?
To make things more exciting, he begins to contemplate and regret his time spent on Earth, as he faces
looking at the fact he’s never left his town as a waste of his life. Welcome back, Pee-Wee. I can see your time spent in a Serbian jail was well spent.
Clearly this “wasting his life” tactic is an ill-advised plot motivator, as the forced introspection gives him reason to venture off to New York when Joe Manganiello comes to town and invites Pee-Wee to his birthday party, but gives him this unnecessary mid-life crisis. Why does Pee-Wee need some modern-day, life-searching desire to do something? He should just do it because he’s whacky and zany.
Oh yes, we should also not forget the entire plot of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which had him go on a *cough cough* big adventure, which involved him leaving town. Now I’m sure the reasoning is something like “every outing of Pee-Wee being completely unique unto itself”. But why did the motivation for this adventure have to be “I’ve never left town before” when one of his most enduring legacies was him going on a huge adventure?
No matter the logistics, because even the adventure itself isn’t all that imaginative or funny. Think the original Big Adventure without any of the fun or whimsy. He’s taken hostage by a gang of buxom criminals, travels to a snake exhibit, stays at a farm house where the owner’s daughters try desperately to sleep with him, and goes for a flying car ride. Okay, that last one is as awesome as it sounds.
But what about the others? The only thing the buxom criminals do is kidnap him, mock him, and then have a pillow fight with oily male strippers. Hysterical! Sounds like an Andy Dick fever dream.
But what is most heart-breaking is that what could’ve made all these run-of-the-mill road trip tropes funny was Pee-Wee himself. Sadly, years working at a diner have made him *gulp* normal. He responds to most scenarios with average-joe logic, like when he’s trying to not have sex with the rancher’s daughters (you know, like all kids movies) and one of the girls comes to his room and offers him milk and cookies, he responds, “No I’m full, thanks.” After that another comes to the door with blankets and he says, “But it’s already 80 degrees in here.” Sure those were logical responses, but was that really the funniest way they came up with to have Pee-Wee get his way out of a jam? The result is a bunch of unfunny scenarios that simply make Pee-Wee look overly naive other than his usually delightfully goofy, free-spirited and even witty way of responding to the world around him.
There are sparks of humor though, like when Pee-Wee gets into a flying car, squeals like an 8-year-old girl when it begins to crash, and then has to bail out with nothing but an umbrella. Classic Pee-Wee. But those moments of inspiration are few and far between. The children who have to view the movie for a first time are going to be spending a lot of time asking their parents, “What’s so funny about this?” The parents may not have a good answer. The movie doesn’t seem to take as much advantage of being as silly as it can possibly be. For instance, there’s a scene at the ranch house when, as a gag (I guess) the Pee-Wee and the whole family are sitting on a very large porch swing. They then get up and go to bed. That’s the whole joke! There’s nothing odd or fantastical about anything other than its size, which is more forced than funny. I don’t know if it was the work of co-writer Paul Rust, who has spent much of his time working with Judd Apatow, and who hasn’t done too much kid-friendly stuff, but the humor for the targeted kid audience just isn’t there, most of the the jokes simply falling flat on their face.
Apparently this movie went through a lot of incarnations that would have made it a wildly creative and oddball romp, including a puppet-fueled adventure, before landing on this treatment. That version sounds hysterical. This one is disheartening given the large lack of, well, jokes. I think, though, the blame is on producer Judd Apatow and co-writer Paul Rust. They’ve spent so much time making movies for adults that they have no idea how to tap into the kid in them. Hence, Pee-Wee is plagued with adult problems that have no place being there. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is not for kids, but for adults, and like adults Pee-Wee has become dull and boring after years of disappointment and credit card debt. Rest in peace.