09/13/2012 09:33 am ET Updated Nov 13, 2012

Review: Snowman's Land

Casually brutal, drily (but only intermittently) funny and frequently just plain strange, the German Snowman's Land is a gloomy comedy that's funnier in theory than in practice.

Walter (Jurgen Rissman) is a hired killer who kills the wrong man by mistake -- and so is banished by his boss, who tells him to take a vacation until he hears differently.

He runs into a pal, who offers him a fill-in job: The buddy was supposed to go into the northern mountains to do some killing for a guy named Berger (Reiner Schone). Walter can go in his place. En route, he comes across another hit man colleague, Micky (Thomas Wodianka), who is also off to help Berger.

The road is snowy and cold, so much so that Walter's rattly old car slides off the road. He and Micky wind up hoofing it to their destination: a mountaintop fortress that could be a luxury hotel or, perhaps, a mental institution.

But the place is mostly empty: Berger is off hunting boar, leaving his woman, Sybille (Eva-Katrin Hermann), home alone. Sybille, however, is off for a spree in town -- and leaves Micky and Walter behind, saying, "Don't touch anything."

When she returns a few days later, she comes bearing tales of crazed, Ecstasy-fueled orgies -- then lures Micky off for a reenactment that ends up with her dead (through no fault of Micky's). Convinced that Berger will kill them both if he finds Sybille's corpse, they dispose of it -- but still wind up on the wrong end of Berger's gun.

But Berger, as suspicious as he is of them, is even angrier at the feral locals, pranksters and vandals who apparently make his life miserable (though they are never seen). He's imported Walter and Micky to help him cleanse the countryside of them, so he can turn the massive building into an expensive resort.

Snowman's Land calls to mind similarly themed films such as I Went Down and In Bruges, darkly comic tales of mismatched killers who are strangers in a strange land, where they discover they are not the deadliest figures in the landscape. But those other films offered sharp dialogue, character development and a lot more story than this film does.

Rissman is a potentally intriguing presence as Walter -- at once oafish and deadly, canny and cowed, taciturn and sarcastic. Wodianka's Micky, on the other hand, jabbers a lot but doesn't have much to say. His lines never reveal anything surprising or even just function as jokes.

It's almost a random plot, with turns and twists that seem to have been inserted at strategic points, without actually thinking about where the story should go next. Writer-director Tomasz Thomson -- fond of shots of the forbiddingly snowy landscape -- has a clever title but little to otherwise distinguish Snowman's Land as a worthwhile waste of time.

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