CRITICS guffawed as if they were about to asphyxiate when I saw this in a preview screening, desperate to love its every quirky step.

But let's not kid ourselves - as a step between Coen quirk and an all-out mainstream rom-com, it falls into a gulley in between, and, as a result, is not fully a success as either.

Its high profile has come about solely because of the two actors whose desire for credibility has pulled them into the Coen orbit - Catherine Zeta Jones and George Clooney whose previous O Brother Where Art Thou? trip down Coen-street gave Dr Doug depth. Playing respectively a warring wife and her husband's divorce attorney, they've been gifted old school screwball roles - and, by heck, will they make the most of it.

We first meet George through his teeth, after a fabulous set of opening credits wherein cupids twitter around to the sounds of Elvis' Suspicious Minds. He's fast-talking divorce lawyer Miles Massey, who loves his pearly whites. A wizard in the courtroom, his infallible Massey pre-nup has ensured the safety of many a rich man's fortune.

But, one day, he raises the wrath of Marylin Rexroth, CZJ playing an unscrupulous bitch who marries older, unsuitable men for their money - insert your own joke here. After he prevents her from sinking her adulterous husband, the battle's on to the bitter end.

The film is undeniably appealing, due to the two outstanding leads, with Clooney doing his Clark Gable routine. I must admit that, no matter how much of a distaste you have for the Welsh woman, she is excellent, fizzing phenomenally with the big G as they exchange poetical barbs on the stand.

Yes, some Coen moments of black magic are evident, such as Wheezy Joe's fatal mistaking of a gun for his asthma inhaler - but, all in all, it feels as if something is missing.

The ending is surprisingly unsatisfactory and non-cynical, therefore completely out of tone with the rest of the film.

Sadly, far from a Fargo.