Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Movie Review-lette: "Big Top Pee-wee" by David Pretty

Every once in awhile I'll indulge in an insane game I call "Movie Review-lette", inviting social media friends to send me movie titles that they want me to review. Naturally a "be as kind or as cruel as you want" disclaimer always goes along with this. As soon as I have ten suggestions compiled I randomly draw one of 'em and then watch and review it.

The last time I did this an inordinately cruel bastard by the name of Josh Mullins suggested Big Top Pee-wee and I'll be damned if that's not what I drew. This little experiment scarred me so badly that I haven't done it since. Thanks, pal.

Anyway, here's the results of this autopsy:

I've never been the biggest fan of Paul Reubens' puerile alter ego but even I have to admit that the early goings of Big Top Pee-wee is actually a pretty funny and imaginative send-up of crusty and prudish small-town America. The very same crusty and prudish small town America that eventually crucified Reubens after his infamous porno theater bust back in 1991.

Unfortunately, the movie drags on for another regrettable, ill-conceived, painfully-protracted, utterly humorless sixty long minutes after it makes its point. *Ugh*

The story begins with our "hero" living a simple and idyllic farm life, surrounded by an Ark-load of animals that look like Stockholm Syndrome casualties from Micheal Jackson's Neverland ranch. In addition to his progressive commitment to living green, Monsieur Herman is also working on some pretty amazing scientific breakthroughs, including the development of colossal cantaloupes and a flourishing Hot Dog tree.

In spite of these visionary inventions and seemingly-peaceful way of life, Pee-wee is universally loathed by the geriatric townspeople who, for some odd reason, have gotten it into their heads that he's a bit "touched", no pun intended. Only his wholesome, corn-fed fiancé Winnie (Penelope Ann Miller) seems to have any affinity for him. I guess behind every great man there's a great...yada, yada, yada

After a tornado sweeps through town, Pee-wee emerges from his storm cellar the next morning to discover that a circus has (literally) blown into town. Their ringleader, Mace (played by a resigned-looking Kris Kristofferson) decides to mount a farm-themed show for the benefit of the nearby town, despite the fact that the locals seem to hate the circus and their bow-tied patron with the burning fire of a million suns. Additional "drama" follows when Pee-wee's engagement to Winnie is threatened by the beautiful and exotic Gina Piccolapupula (!) played by the genuinely-fetching Valeria Golino.

As I said, there's some fun to be had with the first third of the film and I really dug the Norman Rockwell-esque touches in the production design. As a thinly-veiled Pinky Lee-style caricature, Pee-wee generates laughs by contrasting with the cynical modern world, but here he's in his own element. The character isn't nearly as edgy or weird when he's surrounded by a talking pig named Vance, impossibly blue skies, a stylized 50's-era farm town, and a horde of freaky circus types.

There's also a bratty and acerbic side to Pee-wee, which is nicely at odds with his Leave It To Beaver-style appearance. The first half of the film really underscores this aspect of the character with some gloriously-subversive bits. The worm feeding, the "paparazzi", and Pee-wee's sex-starved propensity for leaping aboard his girlfriend Winnie without provocation is all pure gold. It's also great fun to see future method actor Benicio del Toro turn up in his big-screen debut as "Duke the Dog-Faced Boy".

Unfortunately the tent completely collapses when the script tries to explore love triangles, dead fathers (!), reconciliations and anything vaguely resembling a plot. To make matters worse it's almost as if Paul Reubens and co-writer George McGrath suddenly got bored with everything and typed THE END without tying up any of these loose ends. Finally,  for a movie called Big Top Pee-wee, it takes forever to get to the circus scenes and when it finally happens it's all over in a few short minutes. 

But perhaps that's all for the best. I'm told that the film's predecessor, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, is a much better movie thanks to the presence of visionary director Tim Burton. But the fact that Burton wasn't enough of a draw to make me seek out and watch  Big Adventure is pretty high testimony of how much I despised Pee-wee Herman, even during the character's "heyday". 

This is kind of a pity since you can detect fleeting hints of wit, parody and cheekiness in Big Top Pee-wee. It's a shame that Paul Reuben's career was completely obliterated by that porno theater bust, since I think he's got a lot of potential.

Sorry, I'm gotta end this review before I make a cheap "tent pole" joke. Whoops! Too late...

Tilt: down.


  1. I remember this one not being very good but I still find the first movie to be hilarious. It's always been a favourite and I think there's a lot of great humour in Big Adventure. I have a copy of the original R rated Peewee's Playhouse somewhere on VHS. He's an acquired taste for sure.

  2. Sorry, Not R-Rated just more adult themed.