A gun, the sound of it fire-cracking one bullet after another, the look of it lethally close, the blood pooling around the body on the floor, followed by the suffering of those who survive, forms the explosive subject that "Fragments" has in its sites.
Unfortunately, the iconography and impact of the weapon also prove to be powerful characters in this mostly muddled psychological drama. Playing opposite blue steel is a substantial cast led by Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Forest Whitaker, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Jennifer Hudson, a deep pool of possibilities that the film barely taps.
Its story begins on an ordinary day in Los Angeles, in a nondescript diner, with a group of strangers who are, for all practical purposes, just passing through. A random act of violence ends the lives of some and changes the lives of the rest. It is heavy stuff from Australian director Rowan Woods and screenwriter Roy Freirich, on whose novel, "Winged Creatures," the film is based. But as its title suggests, in fragments is exactly where the movie remains, never able to pull itself together into a viable whole.
Still there are interesting stories to be found in the shattered debris here, in particular the waitress and single mother Carla, played with a white-trash verve by Beckinsale, who pines over Pearce's emergency-room doctor, using her baby as a chit for his attention.
Elsewhere, those who survive try to make amends: Whitaker with his daughter, played by Hudson; Josh Hutcherson with his friend, played by Fanning. It all turns out to be more circular and interconnected than anyone at first suspects. You can't help but hear the Oscar-winning "Crash" in the distance, with its similar structure, story and far superior execution.
On its own, "Fragments" quickly begins to dissipate as the individual stories are fleshed out.
Some become life-size and believable, such as Beckinsale's Carla, whose raw ache for that someone with money and respectability is palpable. Tripplehorn, as a mother trying to swim the tides of her daughter's (Fanning) emotional changes, and Whitaker, as the failing businessman looking for salvation in a casino, do a fine job too.
The terrain of violent darkness is where Woods is most comfortable, having built a career on intimate stories that dig into life's grimy underbelly, including Cate Blanchett's recovering heroin addict in "Little Fish."
Unfortunately, "Fragments" never finds it narrative footing. The grand statement it wants to make plays shallow instead of deep, leaving the film too weak-kneed to carry the weight of its broken world.
MPAA rating: R for violent content, sexuality and language
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In limited release, locally at Laemmle Music Hall