The French are smelly, vulgar, racist and oversexed, or so it would seem based on “2 Days in New York,” a scattershot culture-clash comedy that goes down like yesterday’s foie gras. Likely aware of the Woody Allen comparisons that attended 2007’s “2 Days in Paris,” writer-director-star Julie Delpy tries to push them further with this Gotham-set sequel, in which her adorably harried alter ego receives a visit from her seriously obnoxious Parisian family. Considering its predecessor grossed nearly $20 million worldwide, this gallery of Gallic grotesques could parlay its broad sensibility and Chris Rock’s co-starring role into robust returns.
In its first and last resemblance to Arnaud Desplechin’s dysfunctional-family dramedy “A Christmas Tale,” “2 Days in New York” kicks off with a puppet-show prologue that unfurls a mildly complex family history. Photographer-artist Marion (Delpy) is no longer with Jack, the old b.f. with whom she spent “2 Days in Paris,” but she still lives in New York with their toddler son and a new beau, radio talkshow host Mingus (Rock), who has a young daughter of his own from a previous relationship.
The couple’s generally happy cohabitation hits the rocks once Marion’s boisterous, non-English-speaking father (Albert Delpy, the real deal) shows up along with her immature younger sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau, who co-scripted), and Rose’s sleazy b.f., Manu (Alex Nahon), who inconveniently happens to be Marion’s ex. Unbearable relatives are a universal comedy staple, but few have been this calculated to annoy from frame one.
Dad’s attempt to smuggle 30 pounds of Parisian sausage and cheese through customs is merely the first in barrage of unfunny gags, one-liners and extended routines predicated on the general incorrigibility of the French, especially in cramped quarters. Manu drops casually insensitive remarks about black people in front of Mingus. Rose slinks about the apartment practically naked, to the private delight of a visiting neighbor (Dylan Baker), and picks vicious, hair-pulling fights with Marion. Somewhere between Manu and Rose smoking a joint in the elevator and using an electric toothbrush as a sex toy, viewers may feel ready to check out permanently.
But there’s more to come, as the film lurches from arguments around the dinner table to the climactic opening of Marion’s latest exhibit, where the combination of family pressures and personal insecurities push her to the breaking point. Delpy lays the foundation for a massive meltdown, and even more so than in “2 Days in Paris,” she gropes for a pensive, voiceover-heavy resolution ill suited to the film’s dominant mode of strained, stereotypical humor.
Delpy is bold enough to squelch her natural screen appeal by playing Marion as a flighty, hot-blooded, self-conscious bundle of nerves, though Mingus rightly acknowledges, in the film’s most perceptive line, that his g.f. may be many things, but at least she’s never cold. For his part, Rock (who previously displayed an affinity for French fare with his English-language Eric Rohmer adaptation “I Think I Love My Wife”) reps an agreeably offbeat casting choice as the piece’s designated straight man, though watching him plow his way through a series of disgusted reaction shots makes one yearn for the actor-comedian’s own material.
Rough-edged tech credits are in line with the picture’s intended frenetic atmosphere, though a sense of fully inhabited, Altmanesque spontaneity — or, for that matter, Allen-esque wit — never materializes. A late-breaking cameo by a notorious fixture of the American independent film scene is good for a laugh.