Directed by Mark Mylod, starring Robin Williams, Alison Lohman, Tim Blake Nelson, Giovanni Ribisi, Holly Hunter, W Earl Brown and Woody Harrelson.

There's a distinctly 'Fargo'-like feel about Mark Mylod's 'The Big White'. Both films involve money, death and lots of snow but there's one very important difference - 'Fargo' is a truly great film. 'The Big White', on the other hand, is not.

Robin Williams plays Paul Barnell, a struggling travel agent in remotest snow-bound Alaska. He is married to Margaret (Hunter), a woman who appears to have a Tourette's Syndrome-related mental problem. Desperate for money to pay for her medical treatment, Paul tries to cash in his missing brother Raymond's insurance policy but - in the absence of proof of Raymond's death - gets turned down. When Paul finds a frozen dead body in a local dumpster he decides to pass it off as Raymond. The corpse, however, belongs to a pair of inept hitmen (Nelson and Brown) who are very determined to retrieve it. Meanwhile, Paul also has to deal with ambitious and tenacious insurance clerk Ted (Ribisi) who smells something very fishy about his claim and the unfortunate reappearance of Raymond (a crazed Harrelson), determined to get his own slice of the money.

So far, so quirky - and 'The Big White' does have a promising start - but this potential soon unravels into a sloppy, unfocussed farce. Although the film tries its best to be blackly funny, it never quite manages to pull it off and the characters' more idiosyncratic behaviour falls flat in the snow. A great cast make the most of what little they've got, evidently enjoying creating this bunch of desperados, all of whom have personal obsessions and major obstacles to achieving their goals. Ribisi's subdued frustration is compelling and there's a wonderful brittle energy about his scenes with girlfriend Alison Lohman. Both Hunter and Harrelson are completely over-the-top in their outrageous roles but Williams' attempts to deepen his character and contribute some kind of emotional resonance gets lost somewhere along the way.

There are engaging moments in 'The Big White' but not enough to sustain a whole film. Very definitely a could-be-better effort.

Caroline Hennessy