Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, apparently there is something indestructible about Pee-wee Herman. Pee-wee writer, producer and actor Paul Reubens can drop the character for 20 years, doing bit parts here and there (he’s been terrific in everything from “Blow” to “The Blacklist” to “Gotham”) and apparently pick it up in 2016 to absolutely rapturous applause from the (admittedly famously generous) SXSW audience Thursday night at the Paramount Theatre, wherein debuted “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.”
Now, all of this applause was generated by adult humans, many of whom remember either the TV show or the movies as if they were yesterday. How “Big Holiday,” which hits Netflix Friday, will fare with kids…who knows? But parents who enjoyed the franchise will get a kick out of this silly film, directed by newcomer John Lee, written by Reubens and Paul Rust and produced by Judd Apatow.
After a Rube Goldberg opening in the grand tradition of the gewgaw-laden set pieces from the TV show and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” we see Pee-wee at his job as a fry cook at Dan’s Diner in the idyllic town of Fairville, where Pee-wee never wants to leave.
That is until a stranger (extremely funny, good sport Joe Manganiello, playing himself) rolls into town and into Dan’s. Pee-wee is, um, intrigued. They chat about candy and scale-models (look for Pee-wee’s brilliant “Magic Mike” one-liner) when Manganiello invites Pee-wee to his birthday party in the Big Apple.
It is time for Pee-wee to leave the nest, at least for a little while, so our man-boy (who sure doesn’t look 63 years old — there may be some digital trickery involved) moves from sketch-premise to sketch-premise, which is totally fine.
He meets up with some bank robbers (Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz, Alia Shawkat) who carjack Pee-wee, he meets a farmer with a whole mess of sisters who want to bed him, he meets a woman with a flying car. That sort of thing. You know…Pee-wee stuff.
Lee whips through the material, and while there are fewer prop-based antics than the other films, the gags and punchlines are spot-on. The bowtie is back.