Netflix Review: Pee-wee’s Big Holiday Is So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is the first Netflix original movie that looks like it’s just a TV movie. Beasts of No Nation was of course an Oscar contender of prestigious quality, and The Ridiculous Six was a huge, sprawling epic with more visual effects than most of Adam Sandler’s high concept movies, and it was a western! Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny was a theatrical quality Hong Kong movie, but the long-awaited Pee-wee movie feels scraped together.

Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

Franchise Fred does approve of returning to the structure of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, down to an opening evocative of the original’s Tour de France and a Rube Goldberg contraption of Pee-wee’s daily routine. Pee-wee is once again inspired to leave his home for a road trip, although there’s no theft this time. If Pee-wee has never left Fairfield, this is not in canon with Big Adventure, yet it clearly follows the Pee-wee model.

Right away, Big Holiday shows signs of cost and corner cutting. The streets of Pee-wee’s home of Fairview are mostly empty, because they can’t afford to litter them with extras. The entire movie is shot in medium wide shots, or maybe over the shoulder close-ups of dialogue, because they don’t have time for any more than the basic setups.   Yet even TV shows now feel bigger, like Fargo and Breaking Bad, so it’s not even a limitation of the medium. His final destination is big and you can feel how much the film comes alive just because Pee-wee is performing in front of people.

Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

But Pee-wee Herman could make one playhouse feel like a magical whimsical world. Budgetary and practical restrictions shouldn’t hold him back. He could make fun of the limitations and turn the restrictions into part of his world. There is one funny joke about a miniature. If you don’t have the resources to create a big world, Pee-wee gives you an angle to make it surreal or blatantly artificial. They should have embraced that.

Another dead giveaway is the score trying to sound like Danny Elfman’s but not being Danny Elfman. Mark Mothersbaugh is a great musician but don’t ask him to ape Danny Elfman. It will only remind us that it’s not Danny Elfman, but boy is it trying to sound like him. It would have been worth whatever it cost just to license the Elfman theme from Big Adventure, because there are scenes that are executed well, but when the Muzak version of Danny Elfman plays it pulls you right out of it.

Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

There are some bright spots. Joe Manganiello is fantastic doing schtick with Pee-wee. Pee-wee’s encounters on the road are endearing. Some are variations on things that happened in Big Adventure too and others are completely new. Pee-wee does one bit with a balloon that unfolds in one long take, and it’s a brilliant bit of Paul Reubens performing.

I guess Franchise Fred should be careful what he wishes for. I want a sequel to everything but now there are ways to make a sequel that’s not really in the same league. Streaming services will be happy to produce a Joe Dirt 2 as long as it’s inexpensive and episodic, but for a series that began with the vision of Tim Burton and Paul Reubens, that’s not really the sequel we’re asking for. But then you have Universal Soldier or Undisputed which produced their franchise bests with limited resources, so it can be done. They tried taking it to studios for years so maybe this is the place left for Pee-wee. If Netflix will let Reubens make his dark Pee-wee movie, maybe it’ll be worth the compromise but it’s not quite enough for Big Holiday.

Magic Mike XXL Review: Franchise Fred is Fine with It

 

I was one of the few critics who did not like the first Magic Mike. I thought the plot it felt the need to have was boringly obvious. So the unreliable f*** up Mike tried to help ended up screwing him over? You don’t say! Definitely not enough dancing, like it was embarrassed to be the male stripper movie. But you know me, the fact that they made a sequel is automatically more interesting to me.

Matt Bomer in Magic Mike XXL

Matt Bomer in Magic Mike XXL

I love the way they reintroduce the returning characters and explain why Matthew McConaughey isn’t in this one. There’s one way to write out a character, and they have fun with that. Everyone else, honestly I didn’t remember who they were from the first movie. I knew they were in it, but they were all satellites orbiting Channing Tatum. In Magic Mike XXL they all get superficial traits, but dammit they own those superficial traits.

Magic Mike XXL is closer to the gratuitous man candy movie the first Magic Mike should have been, but it’s still not quite there. In between dance scenes, there is talking, and this talking goes on way too long. The boys are on the road and road movies always have pit stop encounters, but these pit stops are supposed to be memorable incidents. In XXL, they stop at a house and have full biographical conversations with the housemarms and their daughters. These conversations are not as interesting as they think they are. Plus, everyone is mumbling, whispering or drawling.

Joe Manganiello carries Channing Tatum in Magic Mike XXL

Joe Manganiello carries Channing Tatum in Magic Mike XXL

When they dance, the dances are relatively good. Every character’s individual routine is diverse at least. They’re just a tad limited by the format. Since they’re strippers, they’re supposed to seduce, and they have to shoehorn in some grinding and thrusting. They can’t go all out Step Up with beefcake.

There’s a real missed opportunity in the plot of Magic Mike XXL. They are driving to a stripper convention and there is not one rival gang of evil strippers trying to sabotage them along the way. They perform at the end, but who have they triumphed against? Don’t say themselves. They haven’t come that far either.

Respecting the male stripper movie doesn’t mean you have to be pretentious. Here is what the plot of a Magic Mike movie should be: “The bank is going to foreclose on the club unless we raise $50,000 by Monday. How are we going to come up with that cash so fast? Strip off!” And you do the best “we have to raise $50,000 dollars by holding a strip off” movie the world has ever seen.

That’s not Magic Mike XXL but it’s getting there. Having less plot helps, but they still need to cut all that dialogue. This needs to become like the Fast and the Furious franchise of male strippers. Each new sequel introduces a new character. Get a Hemsworth in there or some Nickelodeon heartthrob trying to grow out of teen roles, like when Nick Jonas buffed up to do Kingdom. Of course, the golden geese will be Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling. They would be The Rock and Jason Statham to Magic Mike.

Rating: Redbox