'Snow' mostly a downhill drama

"Snow Angels" does nothing to alleviate the pall of depression that hangs over American movies.

It does, however, contain signs that movies are desperate to go in a different direction - even in the downbeat "Snow Angels," you can feel a comedy trying to force its way out.

The movie is essentially about how breakups wreck the lives of two families, and of course that's not funny, and yet there are times when "Snow Angels" manages to sparkle in spite of itself.

One story, for example, follows a college professor (Griffin Dunne) who leaves his wife and teenage son (Michael Angarano) for another woman. This prompts his son to predict that dad will be unable to find a woman who will "put up with the parts of you that suck."

This is said with bitterness and rage, but it had me laughing. What a wonderful definition of family: people who put up with the parts of you that suck.

Flashes of humor show up in other narrative threads as well - the single mom (Kate Beckinsale) who keeps a drunken ex (Sam Rockwell) at bay, while caring for her toddler and carrying on with a married man (Nicky Katt).

Again, not a funny situation, but the paunchy Katt is a quietly funny here as a self-absorbed man completely ruled by base impulses - picture a Homer Simpson who raises other women to the status of doughnuts.

Which would make Beckinsale's character a Belgian waffle.

No matter how hard the movie tries to make her look like a frumpy Pennsylvanian, she still looks like a waylaid Emma Peel.

Director David Gordon Green does his darndest to make Beckinsale look ordinary, and stands ready to quell all unauthorized laughter.

He lets us know right away that (oh yes) there will be blood - the movie is essentially a flashback that follows a prologue of gunshots.

The setting is also wintry and insistently grim - it's set during high school football season in a Pennsylvania town under two feet of snow (in October?).

The weather is dismal, so is the economy - characters eke out livings at a laughably inauthentic Chinese restaurant and a warehouse.

And unpleasant things happen, as promised. The title is horribly ironic, and this is no movie to see if you're queasy about bad things happening to cute kids.

Green, in the end, may have been given an impossible job. He's adapting a book that tells the stories of families with similar problems but opposing destinies, and can't find a way to unify them.

Maybe no one could.

There are images in "Snow Angels" that once shown, make it impossible for the viewer to accept an ending that's happy for anyone. *

Produced by Dan Lindau, Paul Miller, Lisa Muskat, Cami Taylor, written and directed by David Gordon Green, music by Daivd Wingo, Jeff McIlwain, distributed by Warner Independent Pictures.