It bears repeating: Neil LaBute is not out to make movies that people enjoy watching.

But that doesn't mean that he makes mediocre or schlock films. Instead, LaBute has the ability to cause commotion in theaters, usually by starting debates over the issues his movies address. To that end, he has created some scenes that are so uncomfortable for audiences, they may squirm in their chairs."Engaging people, even provoking them, is a good thing. I think I see too many films that don't engage me. I end up squirming in my chair during those just because my butt's tired or I'm bored," he said during an interview to publicize the opening of his new movie, the dark sex comedy "Your Friends & Neigh-bors."

(The film, which adapts a stage play LaBute wrote and produced while attending Brigham Young University, began an exclusive engagement this weekend at the Loews Cineplex Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

However, the furor over the new movie, which originally received an NC-17, due to some graphic sex talk and other sexual content, does come as a bit of a surprise to him. (The film was released with an R rating, with all the scenes and dialogue intact.)

"I can understand if it was controversial because of the characters and situation. But in terms of content I think the film is very restrained," LaBute said. "For one thing, it could have been rife with sex and nudity, everything that everyone has come to expect from sex comedies. I'm not interested in stooping to base titillation like that."

"Your Friends & Neighbors" revolves around the sexual foibles of a bunch of thirtysomethings, including Ben Stiller, Nastassja Kinski and Amy Brenneman. Much of the pre-release talk has been about the performance of Jason Patric, who co-stars as Cary, a seemingly misogynistic, womanizing physician. LaBute, though, defends the character.

"As outlandish as (Cary) is, he's the one character who can definitively state what his best (sexual) experience is," he said. "He continually tells the truth and is protective of his friends. He says `I'm sorry' when he is, and yet he's the one who gets the hardest rap.

"In relationships, people are constantly saying, `Let's tell the truth,' or `Let's not play games with each other.' Well, here's this guy who does nothing but that, and people say, `Get out of here. Don't tell the truth, or at least not that truth.' It's because of his methods, of course. You want to shake him and say, `Please learn how to lie, or learn how to disguise the truth bet-ter.' "

That isn't to say LaBute expects audiences to sympathize with Cary, or any of the other characters, for that matter.

"I'd be very surprised if someone looks at Cary or any of the other characters and thinks, `They're happy. That's the way it goes. That's the way to live your life,' " he said. "It's always possible that the movie could be misread, because I never come right out and say `This is good' or `This is bad.' It's up to the audience to draw those conclusions."

Despite the uproar, Patric is receiving plaudits for his work in the film. LaBute has nothing but praise for the actor, who co-produced the film after he was cast as Cary.

"I think he's gotten as bad a rap as his character has. But his transformation into Cary was astonishing, and I'm not just saying that because he helped me get the film made," he said. "Besides, having him play that role meant Aaron (Eckhart) wouldn't have to play the bad guy again."

Speaking of Eckhart, his turn as Chad, the despicable lead of LaBute's first movie, "In the Company of Men," made him an in-demand character actor. But LaBute said he wasn't worried that Eckhart might be too busy to reunite with his fellow Brigham Young University alum.

"He owes me. Of course, after some of the extreme reactions he got from playing Chad, what exactly it is he owes me could be debated," he said.

LaBute's ability to create unique characters, as well as his perspective on relationships and dysfunctions, was partly garnered from his experiences in the mental health field. While attending BYU as a graduate student in the theater arts program, he worked at the Utah State Hospital.

"I found it to be a very useful job as far as character research is concerned," he said. "After all, what could be more fascinating than to watch people at their most extreme?

"When they're institutionalized, people are forced to deal with issues that many don't ever address," he explained. "The patients there live under some brutally truthful circumstances."

He also learned about movie promotion while working as a driver for the Sundance Film Festival. That proved crucial when LaBute was trying to submit "In the Company of Men" to the 1997 festival. The film opened to equal parts acclaim and controversy during that year's event, and LaBute won the Filmmakers Trophy for a dramatic film.

"Well, getting any sort of reaction from the festival is extremely hard, since it's half-festival, half-Hollywood glamor show," he said.

"But if you do get any reaction, positive or negative, it's extremely gratifying. After all, you go there because you want your film to be discovered," LaBute said. "You don't make a film so you can just show it in your basement for your friends. The idea is that you have some ideas you want to share with an audience."