Starring Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, and Mykelti Williamson. Rated 18A.

Let’s just say it’s probably not a great testament to a crime drama’s ability to grip its audience if you find yourself pondering the lead female actor’s hair more than wondering just who is killing all those cops and who took that missing 40 kilos of heroin.

Come to think of it, just about everybody on-screen looks preoccupied in Vice, a muddled, murky film by writer-director Raul Inglis that can’t blame its consistent incomprehensibility on the rain.

Things start with a confusingly talky drug bust that goes awry, involving undercover cops Walker (Michael Madsen), Sampson (Mykelti Williamson), and Salt (Daryl Hannah). The wrong people get killed and some of the smack disappears—although you only learn that second part much later by listening really hard to the alternately spaced-out and on-point dialogue the actors labour through.

More people get whacked, but because Walker, Salt, et al. refer to the dead as though the audience is already fully acquainted with them, it takes effort to comprehend that it’s the cops themselves who are getting picked off. Although there are discussions about the deceased—in pickup trucks, doughnut shops, and internal-affairs inquiries—it’s soon clear the living are all talk and little action.

Actually, the taciturn Walker, whose back story includes a dead wife (surprise!), gets lots of action involving getting plastered, asking prostitutes to show him their asses, and then hitting seedy motel rooms for cop-hooker intimacy. Gravel-voiced Madsen, saddled with an Apocalypse Now–style voice-over of God-and-salvation silliness, never seems fully present, possibly fervently wishing he were elsewhere. Only Williamson seems invested in the proceedings.

Hannah acts from behind a perplexing curtain of bangs in a jet-black version of her Blade Runner replicant’s blond mop. (Playing a cop, she looks and mumbles like a street kid.) But considering Vice’s claustrophobic close-ups and lighting so bright you can feel those giant movie lights—except when things are so dim you can’t discern who’s who—maybe the actor needed somewhere to hide.