Talk about nostalgia porn. “Star Wars”, “Jurassic Park”, “Mad Max”, “Rocky”, “The Terminator”…it’s been a solid year of successful reboots. Guess who’s back now? Pee-wee Herman, that’s who! And, despite things being just a little bit creepy, now that star Paul Reubens has reached the advanced age of 63, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” is a mostly acceptable return to form. Oh, he may be a little less manic, and his voice is ever-so-slightly thicker with age. Overall though, he’s remarkably well preserved, so it doesn’t really matter that he’s needed a little more pancake makeup on his face. Mr. Reubens co-wrote this screenplay (with comedian Paul Rust), and co-produced along with Judd Apatow. John Lee gets first time feature film directing chores.
Pee-wee Herman is a beloved citizen of the quaint town of Fairville. In fact–he’s never set foot outside of it. He lives alone in a gadget-filled home, drives a toy car, works as a short order cook at the local diner, and performs music as part of the quartet called, “The Renegades”. But Pee-wee comes to realize that he may be in a rut, after hunky actor Joe Manganiello roles into town on his motorcycle. Mr. Herman has no idea who he is, but they share a fondness for root beer barrels and perfect milkshakes. When Mr. Manganiello invites Pee-wee to his New York penthouse birthday party, the eternal man-child decides to break his routine for a cross-country trek. He quickly encounters a trio of female bank robbers, hitchhikes with a gregarious traveling salesman, gets a horse-and-buggy ride with an Amish duo, and is accosted by a hopeful farmer–with nine unwed daughters. But will Pee-wee make it to the Big Apple in time?
With occasional sly references to some of Pee-wee’s earlier adventures, and a wonderful cameo by 1985’s “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” alumni, Diane Salinger, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” is just good enough. It’s relatively spry, and certain set pieces really hit the mark (while others flounder). Yes, this Netflix-produced and streamed, limited theatrical release appears to be a little bit on-the-cheap, plus Pee-wee’s heyday was firmly planted in the previous century. But nostalgia it is…like discovering an old toy in the attic. The opening sequences are deliriously orchestrated and marvelously off-beat. Plus, the film’s ace-in-the-hole is a winning turn from the handsome 6 foot 5-inch, Mr. Manganiello. His easy rapport with Mr. Herman is inspired. Bonding over candy with the diminutive bow-tie wearing star, or zipping to his rescue in a Central Park mishap, Manganiello provides the real jolt that makes their ‘Mutt n Jeff’ scenes together truly sing. He’s a welcome and charismatic presence. It ain’t perfect, but “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday”gets a passing grade from me. And if you find me off-base, “I know you are, but what am I”.