"My Worst Nightmare" half-jokingly endorses the macho fantasy that the only thing a chilly woman really needs to warm her up is a good you-know-what. Its ice queen, Agathe (Isabelle Huppert), a Parisian art gallery owner whose subzero refrigeration freezes everything in her proximity, makes Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly from "The Devil Wears Prada" seem like an overheated oven.

As it belabors its one joke, "My Worst Nightmare," directed by Anne Fontaine ("Coco Before Chanel"), yields steadily diminishing returns. For Huppert, it is the latest in a long line of roles that require her to ooze an imperious hauteur, something she can probably do in her sleep.

BenoÓt Poelvoorde and Isabelle Huppert in "My Worst Nightmare."Strand Releasing
BenoÓt Poelvoorde and Isabelle Huppert in "My Worst Nightmare." Strand Releasing (Strand Releasing)

Agathe has a preadolescent son, Adrien (Donatien Suner), with her longtime partner, François (André Dussollier), a wealthy older book publisher. But any heat between them cooled long ago. Their domestic routine is thrown into upheaval when François hires Patrick (Belgian comic actor Benoît Poelvoorde), a drunken, womanizing boor, to do some construction in their apartment.

Although Patrick has never heard an offensive epithet he didn't embrace, Poelvoorde invests him with a crude, easygoing charm. Patrick has enough self-awareness to realize, in his words, "if a girl's IQ is over 80, my charm stops working." A tireless consumer of sex, he says he believes in "quantity, not quality." He has a son, Tony (Corentin Devroey), who is Adrien's age and whom he describes as a "beer baby," meaning he was conceived in a stupor.

Patrick stays in the maid's quarters, where he makes a racket having sex with fat women. When he asks François what Agathe is like in bed, François replies that he is used to living "in a calm, icy desert, a bit like Antarctica."

François meets Julie (Virginie Efira), a pretty social worker who is helping Patrick find a permanent home so he can keep his son (who lives with him in his van) out of foster care. An ardent tree hugger with a taste for druid music, Tibetan chants and all things New Age, Julie reintroduces François to sex. He is so thrilled that he impulsively leaves Agathe, who shrugs and snaps: "Too bad it wasn't a man. It would have been less of a cliché."

Julie pressures her much older lover to accompany her on a forest expedition, where she makes him ride a zip line from tree to tree. Left on their own, Agathe and Patrick continue sparring until they get wildly drunk one night, play "horsy" and end up in bed. Afterward, Agathe is able to force out a few tight smiles. Even so, her temperature barely climbs above freezing.

The movie is drawn out with a tedious subplot involving Patrick's efforts to keep his son from being snatched by child services. Its tepid satire of art world pretensions culminates with a visual dirty joke that is mildly amusing but still not worth the wait.

'my worst nightmare'

*

Rating: Not rated
Cast: Isabelle Huppert,
Benoît Poelvoorde
and André Dussollier
Director: Anne Fontaine
Running time: 1 hour,
43 minutes. In French
with subtitles.