Tag Archives: Paul Reubens

Midnight Madness (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: All night scavenger hunt.

Leon (Alan Solomon) is a geeky college student who comes up with an elaborate scavenger hunt to be played by his fellow students. The object of the game is to pick-up on certain clues hidden throughout the city of Los Angeles and each team must solve the clue given to them before they can move onto the next one. The game is played by 5 teams who have 5 members each: David Naughton heads the preppy Yellow team, Maggie Roswell plays the leader of the nerdy girls red team, Eddie Deezen leads the geeky white team, Brad Wilken leads the green team, which is made up of party animal jocks, and Stephen Furst heads the anti-social/misfit blue team.

On the surface this comes off as just another crude, sophomoric 80’s teen comedy complete with gross out humor of having to watch overweight Furst constantly stuffing his face with food, which is genuinely painful to watch when you realize that in real life he had a big issue with diabetes that made him retire from acting and he ultimately died from the illness. The film fails to have anything all that funny in it and it doesn’t even show any skin from its attractive female cast, which most likely was a result of it being financed by Disney.

The game itself though is kind of interesting and posses some legitimate logic oriented clues that force both the viewer and participants to think it through in order to solve. There is also some interesting on-location shooting done in famous landmark locations throughout Los Angeles including the Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, which helps give this otherwise low budget production a bit of a visual spark.

Even with these elements in place the film fails to take full advantage of its setting. If this is all supposed to take place during the wee hours of the night then there really shouldn’t be such large crowds present at the locations they go to including tours going on at the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer plant. It would’ve been more of a surreal ambiance had it just been the players of the game roaming around an otherwise shuttered city while everyone else was fast asleep. The final part of the game takes place in the daytime, which again ruins the nightime/midnight theme and effort should’ve been made to have the entire story take place while it was dark.

The story is also full of a ton of logic loopholes including never explaining how Leon was able to get his face painted on the side of beer cartons at the beer plant as well as a wide assortment of other issues. One also had to wonder why Leon goes to such great lengths to create such an elaborate game that doesn’t really seem to benefit him directly. If this kid is so smart to create such an intricate game then why doesn’t he put his creative energies into forming a profitable business so he doesn’t have to live in a rundown apartment that has paper thin walls and a crabby landlady screaming at him every time he makes any noise?

The cast has some familiar faces in small roles including Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in a bit part at a game arcade and Marvin Kaplan, an aging character actor best known for his work in Adam’s Rib and the TV-show ‘Alice’, as an overwhelmed hotel desk clerk. Kudos also go out to Irene Tedrow as an elderly and quite obnoxious landlord and Dirk Blocker, who is the son of famous ‘Bonanza’ star Dan Blocker and looks just like him, as a dim-witted party animal who just can’t get enough beer.

Naughton though is quite stale in the lead and doesn’t seem to have much acting talent at all although I did like the in-joke of seeing him drink a Dr. Pepper since he’s probably best known for singing the ‘I’m a Pepper’ jingle in TV commercials during the 70’s. This also marks Michael J. Fox’s film debut who plays the younger brother to Naughton though the subplot dealing with his anger at being taken for granted by his older sibling is misplaced and heavy-handed in a film that is otherwise super silly.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Micheal Nankin, David Wechter

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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 in 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 crowd, 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

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

pee wee big adventure

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his bike.

Due to the release this weekend of Pee Wee’s Big Holiday I thought it would be appropriate to go back and take a look at the ‘80s classic that started it all. Here we have Pee Wee (Paul Reubens) living with his small pet dog Speck inside a home full of colorful contraptions. His prized possession is his bicycle, which he takes great care of and carefully chains up every time he leaves it alone. However, a hateful bully named Francis (Mark Holton), who is from an affluent household and used to getting whatever he wants, decides that he wants Pee Wee’s bike for himself. When his monetary offer gets rejected he then hires a professional thief to steal it for him, which sends Pee Wee on a mad frenzy across the country to try and retrieve it.

The movie is an exercise in high camp that could’ve easily failed, but instead it succeeds mainly because it doesn’t put the eccentric main character into the real world, but instead pulls the viewer into the quirky 10-year-old mindset of the protagonist. Here we don’t deal with people who reject or mock him, but instead much like with all children he becomes the ‘king of his own domain’ where he is liked and accepted by most everyone he meets and in control of all situations while the harsher realities get ignored or overlooked completely.

The film also manages to accentuate Pee Wee’s odd personality with garishly colorful set-pieces and odd contraptions that almost become the film’s main attraction. Reubens plays the role in an engaging manner, but the character’s persona is one-dimensional and could border on getting annoying had it been the film’s sole avenue of humor, but fortunately director Tim Burton manages to give the film a complete vision by instilling a storyline and visual design that match the weirdness of its protagonist and makes the proceedings come off as fresh and inventive.

I also liked that it wasn’t geared completely towards children, but instead made to attract those of all ages with a taste for the offbeat and absurd. Going the kiddie flick route would’ve made it come off as formulaic and infantile, but instead by emphasizing the surreal it becomes intriguing and impossible to predict.

The loosely structured script, which was co-written by Reubens and actor Phil Hartman, manages to go a long way on what amounts to being pretty much just a one-joke premise, but it does eventually start to lose steam by the 60-minute mark only to recover in grand style at the end with a delightful chase through the backlot of the Warner Brothers studio. It is similar to the ending used in Blazing Saddles where the film breaks the fourth wall and becomes a movie-in-a-movie although I felt this one was funnier than the Mel Brooks version.

The film is sprinkled with a lot of cameo appearances as well with my favorite ones being Milton Berle as well as James Brolin playing Pee Wee in the Hollywood movie version and Morgan Fairchild as the Hollywoodized version of his girlfriend. I also got a kick out of Jason Hervey who is best known for playing Fred Savage’s older brother in ‘The Wonder Years’ and who does a very funny caricature of a spoiled child film star here.

The film is also known for making the ‘50s instrumental ‘Tequila’ by the Champs a very recognizable melody. In fact it is almost impossible to think of the Pee Wee character and not have that melody start to play in your head, or if you do hear the melody playing somewhere you can’t help but have the image of Pee Wee pop-up when you do. However, in the actual film the song ends up being played only briefly.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Tim Burton

Studio: Warner Brothers