Film review: Easy Virtue

Published: Thursday, June 18 2009 4:51 p.m. MDT

To be fair to Jessica Biel, she has matured as an actress. She's now competent enough to give big-screen (and small-screen) performances that aren't an embarrassment to her or others.

However, she's still nowhere able to hold her own against a veteran like Kristin Scott Thomas. And ridiculously, "Easy Virtue" asks her to do exactly that.

Worse, this film casts the very contemporary looking Biel in period material — it's an adaptation of one of Noel Coward's lesser-known stage plays.

To say that her casting doesn't work is an understatement. And there's not nearly enough of Coward's biting wit on display here.

Biel stars as Larita, an American thrill-junkie who's just gotten a quickie marriage to John Whittaker (Ben Barnes).

The Brit takes his new bride to meet his family. Unfortunately, it appears John's mother, Veronica (Scott Thomas), isn't thrilled with his choice of a bride.

To her credit, the new Mrs. Whittaker tries to win over the other Whittakers, including the weary patriarch (Colin Firth).

Co-screenwriter/director Stephan Elliott's adaptation is full of modern touches that aren't appropriate for the story's 1920s setting.

Elliott ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") also overuses music — including Marius De Vries' overly wacky score — to try to make this seem funnier than it is.

The highly anticipated "cat fighting" between Larita and Veronica also fizzles, though it's not because of a lack of effort on Scott Thomas' part.

As for their male co-stars, Barnes ("The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian") is a little bland. Firth is good as always, and Kris Marshall gets some of the better lines as the Whittaker's pithy butler.

"Easy Virtue" is rated PG-13 and features simulated sex and other sexual contact (some overheard or implied), brief female nudity (viewed through mirrors and other optical devices), suggestive language and references (innuendo and some slang), derogatory language and slurs (some based on nationality), and brief hunting violence. Running time: 96 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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