The question posed by "Sotto, Sotto," the new comedy by Lina Wertmuller, is not whether the level of laughter in the audience exceeds the level of noise on the sound track, but how it could possibly hope to approach it.

Oscar (Enrico Montesano), a carpenter with a taste for tradition, makes love to his wife, Ester (Veronica Lario), a sexpot whose va-va is surpassed only by her voom; later, she confesses that, all the while, she was thinking of someone else. Mad with jealousy, he careens around Rome trying to discover who that someone else is, only to find out that it's not another man, but another woman, Adele (Luisa De Santis).

As is typical with Wertmuller, a director whose likeness might appear in the dictionary illustrating the adjective "pretentious," there is much less here than meets the eye. What she has essayed, in her own mind, is an examination of homosexuality and sexual politics; in fact, "Sotto, Sotto" ("sotto," idiomatically, means "subtle") is nothing more than a one-joke sex farce of a particularly obvious kind.

Oscar spies on his wife through one of those coin-operated telescopes; the time runs out, and he has to put another coin in the machine, and gets agitated. Oscar goes to Adele's herbalist shop to get to the bottom of things, is interrupted by a customer in search of herbs to cure his constipation and gets agitated. Oscar goes to a priest for advice, but the priest accuses him of being a godless communist. This agitates the sheer heck out of him.

The movie is essentially a vehicle for Montesano, a clown with large, expressive features who plays his role with great, uh, agitation -- grimacing, shouting, his fists pounding the air, his eyes bouncing in his head like a 12-minute egg at full boil. This may pass for comedy in Italy; American audiences, however, might learn that they prefer their comedy slightly more sotto.

Sotto, Sotto, at the Circle West End 5-6-7, is rated R and contains profanity and sexual themes.