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August 22-28, 2007

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'2 Days in Paris'

Fodor's fools: Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg play reluctant tourists in '2 Days in Paris.'

Woody on The Seine

Julie Delpy's '2 Days in Paris' reworks Allen's anxious comedy style in the City of Lights

By Richard von Busack

FROM THE evidence of the current cinema, Oscar Wilde was wrong: it's more like "when an evil American dies, he goes to Paris." The full-throated Francophobia of Rush Hour 3 may be the low-water mark (and when Brett Ratner goes low, he goes low). In the smaller end of cinema, Julie Delpy's on-again, off-again (but mostly on) small-camera 2 Days in Paris serves up a convincing portion of comic anhedonia in Paris.

Delpy—a shaggy, soft blonde, usually sweet and dry as an aperitif—plays Marion. Here, she wears a thick pair of black spectacles because of a serious eye defect, though oddly she works as a photographer. She's just been to Venice on holiday. In freeze-framed photos, the whirlwind trip is recalled during its aftermath on the train back to France.

Her live-in boyfriend of two years, Jack (Adam Goldberg), came along with her. Mostly, he only saw the toilets of Italy, thanks to some dubious seafood. The two are en route to New York City via Paris. Marion's mom, Anna (Marie Pillet), has been tending their obese house cat for them. They're stopping for a couple of days at Marion's childhood home before continuing the journey.

Covered with more tattoos than De Niro in Cape Fear, Jack is a thoroughgoing big baby. He speaks no French, doesn't care much for Paris and is deathly afraid of picking up one disease or another. He also shows a jealous streak and so is doomed to steam away every time Marion runs into one of her exes on the street. And that is often. The worst moment comes at a cocktail party, where the conversation runs fast and furious in French, and the men come on as strong as cheap cologne.

Delpy's playful tweaking of Jack's American qualities—his hot temper, his prudishness and his fastidiousness—seem about right. Jack is appalled by Marion's parents' flat, with its defective plumbing and signs of black mold. And Marion's mother almost walks in on the couple when they're making love.

Jack also gets the once-over twice from Marion's father, Jeannot (played by Delpy's real-life father, Albert), a shaggy, slovenly old bohemian who is still drawing and exhibiting explicit erotic art, 35 years after its heyday. Jeannot discomfits Jack, first by serving him a rabbit head for dinner and second by peppering him with a bunch of Franglish questions about American literature. After Jack expresses his desire to see the grave of Jim Morrison at Père-Lachaise cemetery, the old man loses his composure completely.

No matter what the locals think about it, this is of course something everyone should do in Paris. I did it myself. I followed all the spray-painted arrows that wastrels left on the marble sepulchers, until I found a plaster bust depicting Morrison as he would have looked if he'd succumbed to tertiary syphilis, instead of booze.

A dejected squad of hippies were worshipping the head. Visitors had scrawled their cris de coeur on all sides: "I was not myself today!" wrote one agonized poetaster. Looking at the bier of my childhood hero, laid out for good, I said, "You're a long way from L.A., fat boy"—a sentiment I suppose Morrison could have returned if he were alive.

So Jack does visit the cemetery and finds it as uninspiring as everything else in Paris. Fortunately, Delpy doesn't spare her own troublesome character. Marion is sometimes more blunt than just the language gap would have it. Raised Parisian, she is sometimes a serious New Yorker. She gets into the faces of a series of cab drivers who love to air their prejudices against foreigners and for wife-beating.

One tends to love every third minute in 2 Days in Paris. The Woodyisms that this movie sources could have been fleshed out a bit with that imitation manly-man suavity that Allen does in-between panic attacks. Goldberg can be mock studly, as we saw in The Hebrew Hammer, but here, his whine isn't vintage. In following the lead of Annie Hall, Delpy should have used a little more intellectual talk—or even pseudo-intellectual talk, something more cogent than the literary conversation Jeannot inaugurates: "Henry Miller ... yes?"

Delpy depicts Ugly Americanism in an early scene when Jack deliberately misleads a troop of Republican tourists retracing the events of The Da Vinci Code. The gag is fresh enough, and mean enough, but it isn't set up for maximum snap. And though Jack wears a "Visit Guantanamo Bay" T-shirt, he never gets in a thorny conversation about the war—something else that would give a backbone to the slight but amusing events in 2 Days in Paris. Knowing Paris' bad side and its downside, Delpy as director doesn't tourist it up, preferring to have the two separated lovers finally come together by the side of a canal instead of the Eiffel Tower. She's right, though I don't know why; canals are romantic in a way the Eiffel Tower isn't. By the side of a canal, then, the European movie tropes that Woody Allen once raided come back home to Europe.

Movie Times 2 Days in Paris (R; 96 min.), directed and written by Julie Delpy, photographed by Lubomir Bakchev and starring Delpy and Adam Goldberg, opens Aug. 24 at Camera 7 in Campbell and CinéArts in Santana Row.

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