The movie "Happiness" features one gag that makes even the most notorious joke in "There's Something About Mary" seem tame. It also dares to treat the subjects of obscene phone-callers and pedophilia in a surprisingly straightforward manner.

But does that make it art?

To some it does. This bitterly dark and dreary comedy already has its share of boosters, who have declared it a masterpiece and assailed its original distributor, October Films, which deemed it too controversial and decided not to release it. (The movie has subsequently resurfaced in an uncut and uncensored form, distributed by the film's producers.)

Filmmaker Todd Solondz's justification for the envelope-ripping movie is that he was trying to make an ironic statement about the human condition. But all too often "Happiness" simply goes too far in presenting its ideas, with frank sexual discussions between a son and father and a disturbing pedophilia storyline.

What Solondz and his fans are forgetting is that the majority of moviegoers will find it unwatchable and repellent . . . as will anyone with a sense of moral outrage.

Those who claim it's a great film are also overlooking its glaring technical deficiencies.

However, one thing it does have in its favor is a terrific cast, led by Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle (from TV's "The Practice") and Cynthia Stevenson, playing a trio of lovelorn sisters.

Joy (Adams), the youngest, is a going-nowhere thirtysomething fresh off a breakup with a suicidal ex-suitor (Jon Lovitz, in a hilarious cameo). Her luck seems to change when she meets a charming immigrant taxi driver (Jared Harris), but unfortunately he isn't the nice guy he appears to be.

And her novelist sister Helen (Flynn Boyle) isn't doing any better. The only man in her life is an obscene phone caller, who turns out to be her shy neighbor, Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Happily married housewife Trish (Stevenson) would seem to have the most idyllic life of the three. But what she doesn't know is that her seemingly frigid husband, Bill (Dylan Baker), is a closet pedophile who longs for his pre-teen son's best friend.

As noted, Solondz's lack of real filmmaking skills are all too obvious here, and the multi-storyline premise is too reminiscent of Robert Altman's movies.

More problematic is that what's meant to be ironic here is depressingly downbeat. And the characters are such losers that it's hard to care about what happens to them.

"Happiness" is not rated but would probably receive an NC-17 for graphic sex talk and use of vulgar slang, profanity, simulated sex acts, a violent struggle and some female nudity.