Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Herman's Been Gone

I don't usually review movies out in theatres, saving them for the year-end wrap-up.  On the other hand, I regularly discuss new TV shows.  See, there is a method to my madness.  So how do I deal with Pee-wee's Big Holiday, which is definitely a movie, but debuted on Netflix? I'm making a call--it's TV, and will be discussed now (and not in the wrap-up).

Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the first feature starring Paul Reubens' character, is a minor miracle.  Not too many thought you could get so much out of Pee-wee, but Reubens, with the help of first-time director Tim Burton, turned out something truly entertaining, even iconic.  Hard to believe it was 30 years ago.  There was a follow-up, Big Top Pee-wee, which didn't really work.  The magic of the character at full length proved to be tenuous.  Then Paul Reubens had some public relations problems and Pee-wee went away for a while.

Now Pee-wee is back.  Reubens at 63 is kind of old to play a man-child, but he looks pretty good, considering.  So at least we've gotten over that hurdle.  Spoilers ahead, though knowing the plot of the film shouldn't hurt your enjoyment too much.

The story starts with Pee-wee waking up (from a dream) and doing his morning routine, using all sort of Rube Goldberg machinery.  In other words, we're back in the world of the first movie.  I guess I can't blame them for repeating what worked before.  In general, the film feels like a remake--a long trip where Pee-wee goes outside his comfort zone on a sometimes dangerous journey.

Pee-wee is a model citizen of the model town of Fairville--Pee-wee's even made a model of it in his backyard.  The people there are simple, cheerful and somewhat stuck in the past (and still influenced by the feel of Tim Burton).  Pee-wee, the cook in the town diner, is beloved, and sees no reason ever to leave--change is his enemy. Until actor Joe Manganiello (played by actor Joe Manganiello, in the movie's best turn after Pee-wee himself) comes into the diner, demonstrates how cool he is, and then invites new friend Pee-wee to his big birthday party in New York.

Thus Pee-wee starts on his cross-country trip to celebrate with his new best friend.  He meets all sorts along the way, including a trio of female bank robbers, a novelty gift salesman, a farmer with plenty of daughters, hairdressers with bizarre stylings, a woman who flies in her car/airplane (played by Diane Salinger, Pee-wee's love interest in his first feature), a grizzly mountain man, the Amish and so on.

Pee-wee gets to New York just in time, but then falls down a hole.  A despondent Joe Manganiello thinks his friend has deserted him, but when Pee-wee's plight is discovered, the city rallies around him.  Everyone and everything comes together for a happy ending.

Did it work?  It wasn't bad. My main complain is it's no Pee-wee's Big Adventure, which had a better plot, more memorable gags, and even, within this odd world, stronger characters with deeper motivations.  If I paid to see it in a theatre, I might have felt it wasn't worth it. But as something available on Netflix, not bad.  So I guess it's right to review it like a TV show.

I wonder how long these distinctions will hold up.

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