FIRST SNOW — ** 1/2 — Guy Pearce, Piper Perabo, J.K. Simmons; rated R (profanity, violence, sex, vulgarity, brief drugs, brief gore).

The setup for "First Snow" sounds like the premise for a horror movie, say a Stephen King adaptation.

A self-absorbed salesman breaks down in the New Mexico desert, and then he encounters a fortuneteller, who sees a vision about his impending doom.

That sounds pretty spooky, but this dramatic thriller is more of a character piece than anything else. And the most watchable aspect may be Australian actor Guy Pearce, who's pretty much playing a remorseless slimeball.

The character in question is Jimmy, who initially laughs off the predictions of local soothsayer Vacaro (J.K. Simmons). As it turns out, some of the things Vacaro tells him start coming true, so Jimmy again seeks him out. But all he will tell Jimmy is to start getting his affairs in order.

However, Jimmy would rather try to figure out who would want him dead — and at least a couple of suspects come to mind: the co-worker (Rick Gonzalez) he double-crossed and the childhood friend (Shea Whigham) who once took a rap for him.

It's a pretty suspenseful idea, but co-screenwriter/director Mark Fergus isn't able to build any palpable tension. And the fact that we're not really rooting for his protagonist to survive works against the material.

Pearce seems to be having fun with the character. This film may not stack up with his work in the infinitely better "Memento," but he offers a credible performance.

There is also good support from co-stars Simmons, Whigham and Gonzalez, as well as William Fichtner. (Piper Perabo is negligible presence as Jimmy's long-suffering girlfriend.)

"First Snow" is rated R for strong sexual language (profanity, vulgar slang terms and other suggestive talk), some brief strong violence (including a shooting), simulated sex and other sexual contact, brief drug references and brief gore. Running time: 101 minutes.