‘Pee Wee’s Big Holiday’ isn’t that big after all

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Pee Wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

Directed by John Lee

“Out of student loans and tree-house homes we all would take the latter.” To that Twenty-One Pilots lyric, I think world-famous man-child Pee-Wee Herman would certainly agree. He hasn’t aged a day since 1985, when Paul Reubens last wore his iconic two-sizes-too-small grey suit on the big screen in the Tim Burton-directed “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” But in this Pee-Wee universe follow-up, written by Reubens and Paul Rust (the writer/star of the highly underrated Netflix rom-com series “Love,” which every person should see), Pee-Wee’s hijinks feel all too familiar. Familiar, but also less fun.

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Pee-Wee Herman (Reubens) has never left his hometown of Fairville, population >1,000. Okay, let’s take a break here. So, did his big adventure across the country thirty years ago never happen? Did he not go to the Alamo and Hollywood? Is this not the same Pee-Wee?? Okay, now that plot hole is out of the way. Pee-Wee spends most of his days working at Dan’s Diner, cooking up omelets for regulars. One day, a “triple-cool” biker named Joe Manganiello (playing himself) struts in for a milkshake. He and Pee-Wee hit it off, so as he leaves he invites Pee-Wee to his birthday party in New York City—letting him find his own way across the country. So Pee-Wee sets off, driving, flying, and hitchhiking across the country to the Big Apple.

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“Big Vacation” feels like a stale retelling of “Big Adventure.” Another cross-country trip, more hitchhiking, and more strange new friends. But there are no memorable antagonists, no iconic lines (“I know you are but what am I?”). Paul Reubens has never been anything but Pee-Wee (I mean, he has, but not in the collective memories of America), and after 30 years, Pee-Wee is still one of pop culture’s most reliable, most unforgettable, and most committed characters. But this time around, we get a tamer, more ordinary Pee-Wee. Weird, but not laugh out loud funny. Reubens is still in character like he’s always been, but he doesn’t bring out anything new. I guess five years of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and a few movies gave us everything there is to see of Pee-Wee Herman. “Big Holiday” might be the beginning of the end.

6/10

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