Of all the sort of nostalgic properties, Pee-Wee Herman is one of the oddest ones. With influences from the rather bizarre kids show hosts of the 1950s, Paul Reubens infused his character with a similar insanity that flourished under the knowing slyness of occasional adult humor. The latter element was a big staple during the character’s initial introduction in the early 80s, but was tempered once he became a household name following Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. So now, roughly 30 years after his height comes the new film Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, which takes a similar tact of sending Pee-Wee on a road trip that Big Adventure did, but with new wacky hijinks to run into this time and a new mission besides looking for his bike. The central arc of having Pee-Wee learn a few life experiences while on the road is a bit more of an arc than pretty much any of his previous incarnations and one that’s introduced through the welcome presence of Joe Manganiello as… Joe Manganiello.
Manganiello takes the role of the wandering cool guy with stride and has an impeccable chemistry with Reubens that’s oddly charming. It’s honestly a shame that Pee-Wee has to travel to New York to meet back up with Manganiello, with the two of them only sharing screen time occasionally during bizarre dream sequences after their delightful introduction. Still, Reubens – despite now being a 63 year old playing a child – really hasn’t missed a beat as he steps back into the grey suit and red bowtie. His affable charm still shines radiantly as he ventures into the world, which makes everyone’s appreciation of him seem believable in this bizarro universe. This is particularly true during gags that seemingly go on for ages, yet are some how made tolerable thanks to Reubens’ giddy smile and warm dedication to the bit.
The only trouble is that these other characters are pretty hit or miss in terms of chemistry with Pee-Wee or fun. The best examples are a gang of roving switch blade wielding female bandits that kidnap Pee-Wee at one point, particularly Alia Shawkat as a character with a familiar nickname. In contrast, you have Pee-Wee hanging out with a guy that loves novelty items or a group of Amish people that only goes so far. The big strength of something like a Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is that every side character Pee-Wee encounters are just as memorably odd in their own identifiable way. Here, it seems as if most of these characters are merely there to bounce one gag off of Pee-Wee rather that have an individual identity, which makes this 90 minute film ware rather thin until Manginello comes in with his delightful exuberance to end things on a charmingly odd note. If anything comes from this, it should be him and Reubens teaming up for more.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Root Beer Barrels