Easy Virtue

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Beans on toast, cricket and Noël Coward rank among the most puzzling of great British traditions. Despite decades of cheerleading from the likes of Woody Allen, the esteemed Coward remains the patron saint of wannabe bon vivants, but his droll brand of comic sophistication has never made much impact on the silver screen. That's not about to change with this ham-fisted adaptation of his 1927 farce about a young bride scandalizing her stuffy, well-to-do in-laws by actually having a pulse.   

Leggy, raspy-voiced Jessica Biel is dreadfully miscast as a brassy, race-car driving, Detroit-bred Larita, whom everyone insists on calling "Larry" in irksome fashion. She's supposed to stand out, but this is ridiculous — the comely actress fumbles jokes and mangles melodrama in nearly every scene. She's so gawky she makes you long for Scarlett Johansson to saunter in and start a battle of pouty bottle blondes. Biel is so off, in fact, she nearly distracts from director Stephan Elliot's weirder touches — such as actors breaking into snippets of out-of-period songs ("Sex Bomb"?) at the drop of a hat.

Whether you give a toss watching the twitted gentry struggle to keep up appearances, at least the English countryside looks nice, underneath the cigarette smoke. All isn't lost, Kristin Scott Thomas is fun as the icy mother-in-law, as is Colin Firth as the family's aloof father whose sheer boredom makes him an audience surrogate.

Opens Friday, June 12, at the Maple Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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