-By David Noh

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Russian Dolls, Cédric Klapisch's sequel to his 2002 confection L'Auberge Espagnole, is a lightly diverting romantic comedy centered again on Xavier (Romain Duris), who now struggles as a freelance writer in Paris. Besides the professional hell of scribbling lousy made-for-TV movies and ghostwriting supermodel autobiographies, he is on a constant search for love in a world which seems to be forever going in a high-speed opposite direction from him. His co-screenwriter Wendy (Kelly Reilly) would seem to be the perfect candidate, but Xavier's attentions are scattered by the likes of his ex-wife (Audrey Tatou), a comely shopgirl (Aïssa Maïga) and that pesky supermodel (Lucy Gordon).

Klapisch creates a slick, hip universe, trotting all over Europe, from Paris to London to St. Petersburg, showing only the most appealing environs of each city-and creating a vicarious audience vacation. It's forever springtime here, with the intoxicating promise of romance around every corner. Some viewers may object to the fluffiness of his concept, but his directorial hand is so handsomely assured and his cast so charming that it's easy to succumb to his let-me-entertain-you blandishments. Cinematography and production design have what the trade papers used to describe as "sheer eyeball appeal."

Duris manages to soft-pedal the more obnoxious qualities of his manic character, emerging as a modern-day Candide on a relentless personal search. Reilly is relaxed and lovely, but it is Cecile De France who's the real cast standout, as Xavier's lesbian buddy. The scene in which she impersonates his fiancée to placate his conventionally concerned father is a little classic of physical comedy, as she struggles to subdue her butch tendencies in order to appear the perfect, beskirted jeune fille.

-David Noh

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