As John Waters' follow-up to the utterly wonderful Hairspray, Cry-Baby should have been a masterpiece. The cliche-ridden genre of 1950s teen rebel movies lends itself to the writer-director's perverse mixture of kitsch satire and discerning musical taste. And the stroke-of-genius casting surrounding straightforward principals with such offbeat cultural icons as Traci Lords, Patty Hearst, and Iggy Pop maintained the mild freak-show appeal endangered by the death of longtime Waters star Divine.
In a theater, Cry-Baby''s alienating failings mediocre script, hammy, self-conscious acting, wooden direction were somewhat mitigated by the great rock & roll music sung by James Intveld and Rachel Sweet, and by the colorful spectacle. If Johnny Depp's smoldering stare couldn't completely disguise his shortage of talent, the roar of a motorcycle and the mock-''Jailhouse Rock'' choreography could. But watching ''Cry-Baby'' on a 19-inch TV screen and hearing it through a 3-inch speaker further accentuates the lack of scale and occasion. We're left with the impression of a large-budget lip-synch contest with a costumed cast of hundreds.
Still, Cry-Baby contains some classic examples of Waters' wit, such as the priceless sight gag involving a 3-D movie. But even the rip-snorting production numbers set inside a prison (''Doin' Time for Bein' Young'' and ''Please, Mister Jailer'') don't compensate for the film's many shortcomings. My advice? Get the soundtrack album and skip the movie. C+