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COLE MINING
PORTER BIOPIC DEFTLY WEAVES HIS LIFE, MUSIC

DE-LOVELY ***

STARRING: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce

DIRECTOR: Irwin Winkler

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

RATING: PG-13

THE LOWDOWN: A stylishly clever biopic of Cole Porter, America's premier musical composer and lyricist.

Despite snide reviews and the buzz that it's a bore, "De-Lovely" -- the movie about Cole Porter's life and art -- is fun, scintillating and sophisticated. It's a lot like Porter himself, or what we think we know of him. In any case, we'll take Kevin Kline's version: a quicksilver, witty turn that still has great emotional depth.

Add an elegant performance with Ashley Judd as Linda Thomas, the woman who loved, married and bolstered Porter despite his attraction for and escapades with men. (She knew, going in.) Then dot with smashing song and dance numbers. Give all characters snappy dialogue (by screenwriter Jay Cocks, who usually writes for director Martin Scorsese) that embodies the worldly gaiety and high polish of an age both more stoic and pleasure-loving than ours. What more can you ask for in this season of high jinks?

Watch Cole and Linda do the Egyptian "walk" as Caesar and Cleopatra at a costume party, or revel in their wedding as Robbie Williams performs the signature tune, "It's De-Lovely."

Which brings to mind another surprise. You probably scoffed to hear Elvis Costello would be singing "Let's Misbehave," Diana Krall crooning "Just One of Those Things," Sheryl Crow doing "Begin the Beguine." How low can Hollywood go, you thought, and how desperate to capture the youth audience?

But it works, and not just because of costumes and production values. Song and singer mesh, even if at first glance against type.

"De-Lovely" opens with a guide, Gabriel (the clever Jonathan Pryce), as a combo angel from "It's a Wonderful Life" and narrator from "This is Your Life," taking the now elderly Porter back through his life, sometimes willingly and sometimes not.

"Let's stop here a bit," Porter asks at one point. "It took two years to get backing for that play."

"De-Lovely" does get lugubrious at times, and the film is a shade too long. Linda's slow decline from emphysema is overplayed.

Each time the couple moves from one glamorous spot to another, you dread the moment when Linda will try to get Cole out of town. Venice is too much fun (watch Kline fluidly trip the light fantastic down the stairs to a canal to meet a lover); New York has to be exited (Central Park's erotic adventures beckon); and Hollywood with all its golden boys is the last stop on that train.

Director Irwin Winkler (producer of Tavernier's " 'Round Midnite") has made a movie about love, work, and joie de vivre in an era when style truly mattered. Or maybe it was just better style.

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