March 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Retarded people like sex too, and isn’t that funny and special. There you have the condescending message of The Other Sister when you strip it of the Hollywood shellac slapped by director Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman) on a comedy that’s been told with less veiled prurience by every TV show that has ever mined this apparently irresistible revelation.

”She drives me crazy,” the Fine Young Cannibals sing on the hard-working soundtrack as Marshall introduces the Tates, an affluent California family presided over by mellow dad Radley (Tom Skerritt) and perfectionist mom Elizabeth (Diane Keaton); perfection, alas, is ruined by the uncontrollable behavior of mentally challenged daughter Carla (Juliette Lewis), who, as a little girl, was sent off to a specialized boarding school. Now Carla is 24, back home, and full of the uncensored joie de vivre apparently missing from every other Tate woman’s life: Sister Heather (Sarah Paulson) is a workaholic lesbian angry because Mom won’t accept her girlfriend; sister Caroline (Poppy Montgomery) is a materialistic dodo obsessed with her upcoming wedding. Mom, of course, is as brittle as a character can be 19 years after Ordinary People.

Carla may face handicaps, but she’s got big plans, and she enrolls herself in a technical school where she meets her soul mate, Danny (Giovanni Ribisi). He’s mentally challenged too; as proof, the character obsessively loves marching-band music. (Still, he’s not so diminished that he can’t crack an easy-laugh joke when required: ”I wonder who invented sex,” muses Carla. ”I think it was Madonna,” quips rim-shot-ready Danny.)

Will they ”do it,” as the script by Marshall and Bob Brunner (his Exit to Eden co-conspirator) so elegantly calls their sexual initiation? Will they do it with (ha-ha) marching-band music in the background? Will Elizabeth try to break up her daughter’s romance, with Keaton supplying hand gestures not seen since Annie Hall dated Alvy Singer? Lewis and Ribisi, meanwhile, act appropriately Mentally Challenged, slurring their speech while poring over a copy of The Joy of Sex. There’s a word for this vulgar family-therapy movie: retarded. D

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