A cheerleader confesses her lust for another girl with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while football players tackle each other in slow motion all around her. Bono is the walrus. A platoon of soldiers schleps Miss Liberty through the jungle to the tune of “She’s So Heavy,” and Eddie Izzard, surrounded by over-sized Blue Meanie puppets, becomes ringmaster Mr. Kite: this is Julie Taymor’s Beatles phantasmagoria, Across the Universe.

In the fashion of a Broadway jukebox musical, Taymor marries a familiar songbook to an even more familiar plot, lifted wholesale from Hair. Jude (Jim Sturgess), Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), Max (Joe Anderson), Sadie (Dana Fuchs), and JoJo (Martin Luther McCoy) hit all the familiar stations of the Sixites: they drop out of college, they drop acid, fall in love, protest the war, hang out in the Village, burn their draft cards but are sent to Vietnam anyway, etc. etc. Whenever a Beatles tune can be shoehorned into the scene, they burst into song.

Some of the covers, many of them slowed down to ballads, are quite lovely, and in some of the more far-out setpieces, Taymor’s visual imagination thrills. But for every inspired moment, there are three flat-out embarrassing ones. The set-ups for the songs are so labored that you can’t ignore how arbitrary the entire project is. Oh my god, what’s wrong with our new friend Prudence? She locked herself in the bathroom and she won’t come out? Let’s sing a song for her! And what exactly is the point of setting “Strawberry Fields Forever” to images of the Vietnam War? Are you really dragging the assassination of Martin Luther King into this just so you can cue “While My Guitar Gently Weeps?”

The attention to Sixties detail and passing nods to cultural touchstones can be enjoyable (you have to be quick to see the striped shirt on Cowboy Neal or the mural on Leary’s house), but everything about Across the Universe feels canned and pre-digested. It’s candy-colored cute-weird without the threat, urgency, or madness of the truly weird-weird. It’s the counterculture domesticated, history defanged, and set to a catchy soundtrack. Yes, Across the Universe is slightly demented, but it’s not nearly demented enough.

Across the Universe. Julie Taymor, 2007. **