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'Easy Virtue'

The director of the bubbly "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" tackles the bubbly playwright Noel Coward for " Easy Virtue," a loose but spirited adaptation of Coward's scandalous Jazz Age romp. All that bubbling means that some of the froth floats off this confection.

But it's still a winning, witty fox-trot through the Roaring '20s.

The Whittakers are English landed gentry saddled with a World War I vet patriarch ( Colin Firth), who came back from the war "lost," and a micromanaging matriarch ( Kristin Scott Thomas), who hasn't married off her not-quite-spinster daughters and has no control over her playboy son (Ben Barnes).

But Johnny's latest stunt takes everyone's breath away, especially his mother's. He's run off and married a race-car-driving, pants-wearing American flapper ( Jessica Biel).

The open warfare between the women - with the self-assured Biel holding her own with the always-flinty Thomas - is the fun of "Easy Virtue." Coward's droll wit makes most every line quotable.

Alas, the froth lasts only through the first two acts. Director Stephan Elliott and his co-adapter Sheridan Jobbins match Coward's zingers with a few of their own, yet cannot maintain the lightness when third act "revelations" take the movie into darker places.

Still, the wit carries us, and it's great seeing Biel show the Brits that no, Keira Knightley isn't the only Twitter Age hottie who can hold her own in a period piece.

PLOT In 1920s Britain, a matriarch disapproves of her son's free-spirited American wife.

CAST Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Barnes, Colin Firth

LENGTH 1:40

PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas , Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington and Malverne Cinemas

BOTTOM LINE The Noel Coward zingers still resonate.

RATING R

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