RATING |

"Easy Virtue" is a very strange adapation of a 1924 Noel Coward play - strange, in that the filmmakers appear to have expunged all the funny parts.

What's left is a lot of fizz-free champagne about snooty fox hunters turning up their noses at the brash American bride brought home by the family's hard-partying son.

Their quickie marriage is meant to be a scandal, but colonial eyes will search in vain for a downside to the arrangement. Buxom Jessica Biel is the Yankee aviatrix - famous, beautiful, celebrated, an obvious catch. Her British husband, by contrast, is a reedy, shallow mama's boy who looks and acts as if he's 12 years old.

I know it's a period piece, but the attitudes are dated to the point of being nonsensical. The actors seem to sense this, and ramp up their performances to fill the void. Kristen Scott Thomas is particularly screechy as the meddling matriarch - it's like someone took Emma Thompson's character in "Brideshead Revisited" and starved her to make her even meaner.

No wonder Colin Firth, her husband, spends so much time in the toolshed.

Amidst all the musty histrionics, we get jokes about family pet-tampering that appears to be borrowed from "Meet the Parents," a movie that looks like, well, Noel Coward next to this stale, witless farce.