It’s a convoluted, meandering crime thriller that should have been a lot better than it is.

Crooks die in a heist gone wrong. Their widows take up where they left off.

That’s the gist of “Widows.” Set in Chicago, it’s a convoluted, meandering crime thriller that should have been a lot better than it is.

Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his three accomplices evade cops during a high-speed chase, only to have their van blow up in a shootout. Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), a local mobster running for alderman, pays a visit to Harry’s wife, Veronica (Viola Davis), and tells her Rawlings’ crew stole $2 million from him in the heist – and he expects her to pay it back.

Veronica finds a book Harry kept on all of his criminal activities, including another planned score with a payday of $5 million. Veronica enlists two of the other widows, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), also left high and dry for money by their late husbands, to join her in pulling off the job. They add a fourth partner, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), who babysits Linda’s kids.

It’s a particularly complicated situation, however. Manning and his trigger-happy henchman brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), find out about the book and are out to get it. Plus there are the ruthless machinations of both candidates running for alderman, black gang leader Manning and Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the wealthy white scion of generations of politicians, including his racist dad, Tom (Robert Duvall).

The story also detours to show Alice becoming a paid escort to make ends meet (with encouragement from her slimy mom, played by Jacki Weaver). And it explores through flashbacks the tragedy in Harry and Veronica’s interracial marriage. (One such scene allows Davis to appear with her nose running; she’s much too good an actress to rely on such a crutch, but it seems every movie she’s in has to have at least one moment in which she’s in desperate need of a tissue.)

It’s clear that director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”), with whom McQueen wrote the screenplay, based on a TV miniseries written by Lynda La Plante (“Prime Suspect”), are aiming for something more ambitious than merely a straightforward heist yarn. “Widows” is about, among other things, political and moral corruption, economic hardship, the effects of racism and, of course, female empowerment.

That would be fine if all of this could be contained in a focused narrative. But by going off in so many directions, “Widows” loses its momentum, its edge and its credibility. It gets swallowed up by the details.

It’s a shame, because there are several strong performances – by Kaluuya, Debicki, Erivo and Lukas Haas, as one of Alice’s clients. But they’re lost in a forgettable film.