This movie was playing, for some reason, at the local theater, along with a bunch of old Warner Brothers cartoons. I never watched the show as a kid (Pee-Wee sort of weirded me out) but was assured that Big Adventure was good. For the first five minutes, during Pee-Wee's breakfast ritual, I was a little confused about why in the world I was watching this movie. The theater was, incidentally, almost completely empty.
Things got better soon. As soon as Pee-Wee leaves the house, the movie starts to cast its spell. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is not, like most cult comedies, merely quirky; it is deeply, hypnotically strange. The only disappointing parts are actually those that resemble conventional comedies: a punch line about someone going to jail for cutting off a mattress tag, a lengthy anarchic chase scene.
Most of the humor comes from a place that is foreign to modern movies, comic or otherwise, and it's a place that felt unusually healthy to me, because there is no cruelty in the jokes. Almost none of them are at anyone's expense (there is a small exception at the end). And with its hobos and convicts and rodeo cowboys, the movie, for all of its surface novelty, seemed to be tapping a deep vein of weird American humor, the same one that comes out in folk songs (many of which make no sense at all) and in some of Dylan's nuttiest lyrics. It is a fine place to be, one that is getting increasingly hard to find in the real America.
Should I bother to describe the plot? Someone steals Pee-Wee's bike and he travels around the country trying to get it back. That's about all. Anyway, it's an inspired movie. I'm already looking forward to seeing it again.