BIG TOP PEE-WEE - * * - Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), Kris Kristofferson, Valeria Golino; rated PG (mild vulgarity); Cineplex Odeon Family Center Trolley, Cineplex Odeon Midvalley Cinemas, Cineplex Odeon Trolley Square Theaters, Mann Cottonwood Mall Theaters, Queen Theater, Redwood Drive-In (with "Beetlejuice").

"Pee-wee's Big Adventure" was an unexpected hit three years ago, a delightful live-action cartoon that had a real handle on comic timing, gag setups and payoffs, and knew how to use the man-child character of Pee-wee Herman so he didn't wear out his welcome too soon.It worked because it had a very sharp script and because director Tim Burton (who used to do animation and who most recently gave us the cartooney "Beetlejuice") understands comedy.

But Pee-wee's followup film, "Big Top Pee-wee" runs out of gas almost immediately, largely because director Randal Kleiser doesn't have the slightest idea of what to do with his offbeat film star.

Kleiser has brought us such other big-screen films as "The Blue Lagoon" and "Summer Lovers," which exhibit an enormous lack of taste. That can also be said of Kleiser's biggest hit and best film, "Grease."

Pee-wee needs taste, along with energy and imagination, and "Big Top Pee-wee" has none of that.

The story has Pee-wee as a farmer (tilling the soil in his ill-fitting gray suit and red bow tie) whose animals are part of his family - the horses and cows sleep in beds, he feeds the birds himself (exactly as their mother would . . . ugh) and his best friend is Vance, the talking pig. (And that points up another problem - if you're going to have a talking pig, give him something funny to say!)

The sleepy town nearby Pee-wee's farm is occupied by the surliest bunch of rural townfolk since Chevy Chase's "Funny Farm," and Pee-wee's girlfriend is the chaste schoolteacher. (She's a little too chaste for Pee-wee, who has a libido in this film.)

Then one day a storm brews and a circus is blown in, run by ringmaster Kris Kristofferson. (If the movie is sluggish, you should see Kristofferson's performance.)

Naturally, Pee-wee joins up, and he falls in love with aerialist Gina (Valeria Golino), and before you know it the film looks just like Danny Kaye's "Merry Andrew," without the laughs.

Pee-wee and Gina eventually bed down, though it is subtle (kids likely won't get it), and they have a kiss that must be one of the longest in screen history. Long, but not funny.

"Pee-wee's Big Adventure" succeeded because Pee-wee marveled at the world - and the world marveled at him. But within the context of a circus, he's just another freak.

Rated PG, but inoffensive, "Big Top Pee-wee" is just boring.