Dir: Rob Walker. UK. 2000. 96 mins.

Prod Co: Film Development Corporation. US dist: Sony Pictures. Int'l dist: Columbia TriStar. Prod: Alan Latham, James Gibb. Scr: David Logan. DoP: Ben Seresin. Prod des: James Merifield. Ed: Oral Norrie Ottley. Mus: Simon Boswell. Main cast: John Hannah, Famke Janssen, Brian Conley, Eddie Izzard, Amanda Donohoe, Fred Ward.

A tardy, tortuous British attempt to emulate the Tarantino school of hardboiled pulp fiction, this Circus is definitely not the greatest show on earth. Relentlessly derivative and flatly handled, it does nothing to encourage your suspension of disbelief or sustain your interest. Adverse reviews and poor word of mouth will crush any hopes it might have harboured of connecting with the Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels audience either at home or abroad.

Some of Raymond Chandler's finest stories had impenetrable plots that were saved by the insolent banter of the dialogue and the craftsmanship in the characterisation. Circus merely settles for the impenetrable plot. Con man Leo (Hannah) and wife Lily (Janssen) are the central couple in a serpentine saga of cross and double-cross that involves gangland boss Bruno (a miscast Conley), seedy accountant Peter Stormare, crooning bookie Troy (Izzard) and vengeance seeking old flame Elmo (Ward).

A patchwork quilt of influences from Elmore Leonard to Orson Welles are evident in a film that never finds its own voice. The expected eccentricity is laboured, the dialogue fails to sparkle and the screenplay is so intent on trumping every twist and turn with a further revelation that it loses sight of the need to develop the characters beyond one-dimensional pawns.

Despite an abundance of profanity, bloodshed and performances from the flared nostril school of acting, most of the cast are difficult to take seriously in tough guy mould. Like the film itself, they mostly seem to be playing out of their league.