Big Top Pee-Wee (1988)

big top pee wee

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pee-Wee joins the circus.

Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) is now living the quiet life of a farmer. He’s not too popular with the older townsfolk of the neighboring small town where he resides, but manages to find friends with the circus that blows in after a violent storm. Although he is currently engaged to Winnie (Penelope Ann Miller), who is the beautiful local schoolteacher, he soon finds himself entranced with the trapeze artist Gine (Valeria Golino), which causes a great deal of conflict especially after Winnie finds out about it.

I’m not exactly sure why Tim Burton wasn’t brought in to direct this sequel and it could have something to do with the fact that a different studio produced it, but his vision is noticeably missed. Randal Kleiser has directed some good movies of his own, but never anything is this type of genre. It was Burton’s direction and not Pee-Wee’s persona, which is rather one-dimensional and can only be amusing in small doses, that made the first film the success that it was.  Burton infused a lot of garishly colorful sets, oddball characters that complemented Pee-Wees’, and a surreal storyline that all helped to make it strangely intriguing and funny, but here we get none of that.

Instead it is a contrived and conventional storyline that goes nowhere and just isn’t original enough to be worth catching. The first half comes off as disjointed and makes little sense. Pee-Wee seems to have gone back into time as the people in the town where he lives all wear clothes and drive cars that look that they are from the 1940’s, but with no explanation for why that is. The presence of the circus is equally stupid as it seems to have quite literally ‘blown in’ with the storm and into Pee-Wee’s backyard.

The film really gets boring when it focuses on the romantic subplot, which is what takes up the film’s whole second half. One big issue is why would two really beautiful women find this man-child attractive to begin with? A much funnier scenario that would’ve kept more with the bizarreness of the character would be for him to have a romance with one of the sideshow freaks at the circus like the bearded lady, or even the Siamese twins, which could’ve been played up to an even funnier level by having both twins in-love with him and compete for his affections, or having one in-love with him while the other couldn’t stand him.

In either case the film is just not weird enough to be entertaining and it also leans towards the formulaic by having most of its humor aimed at the kiddie crown, which the first one had thankfully avoided. A definite letdown when compared to the first one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Randal Kleiser

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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