New York-based playwright and legit director Peter Mattei makes an underwhelming entry into features with "Love in the Time of Money," a familiar account of unfulfilling personal transactions in a barren emotional landscape, inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's "Reigen."

New York-based playwright and legit director Peter Mattei makes an underwhelming entry into features with “Love in the Time of Money,” a familiar account of unfulfilling personal transactions in a barren emotional landscape, inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s “Reigen.” While there are ephemeral pleasures in the script’s quiet humor and the enlivening presence of cast members Steve Buscemi and Nick Grenier, this kind of episodic chain of interlocking encounters has become a formulaic favorite in American indie cinema, and Mattei’s take on the genre is narrow and schematic.

Developed through the Sundance Institute and exec produced by Robert Redford, the film premiered in the fest’s Dramatic lineup in a special non-competing slot but looks unlikely to carry much commercial weight beyond Park City.

Story of nine New Yorkers starts with skanky neophyte hooker Greta (Vera Farmiga) and building contractor Eddie (Domenick Lombardozzi), who refuses to pay for her services. Later, while taking measurements at a SoHo loft, Eddie succumbs to the advances of an unhappy housewife (Jill Hennessy), convinced her husband (Malcolm Gets) is having an affair. He in turn is wrestling with same-sex yearnings, mistaking the career interest of opportunistic artist Martin (Buscemi) for flirtation.

Martin comes on to gallery assistant Anna (Rosario Dawson), whose infidelity causes conflict with her regular guy Nick (Grenier). Nick opens up to receptive stranger Joey (Carol Kane), who misconstrues his warmth as a sexual overture.

Her need for love and human contact prompt her to respond with sensitivity when desperate bond salesman Will (Michael Imperioli) calls her psychic helpline demanding phone sex. Planning to shoot himself due to his imminent discovery as an embezzler but unable to pull the trigger, Will brings the chain of events full-circle by offering the loot to Greta to kill him.

Mattei’s script tidily choreographs the various two-character vignettes but lacks the biting observations or sharp dialogue to fully engage either as dark comedy or as a more dramatic journey through the emotional dead zone of city life. The writer-director fails to pull back and reveal any bigger picture or allow larger themes to coalesce. And despite the attempt to portray New York as an environment of need and greed, and of people all reaching for some unattainable connection, the underproduced look and uninteresting lensing make the city a dull canvas.

Surprisingly for a theater director, Mattei elicits mostly flat performances from the ensemble, with only Buscemi, Grenier and Dawson bringing any edge to their characters.

Love in the Time of Money

Production

A Blowup Pictures, Sagittaire presentation of an Open City Films/South Fork Pictures production. Produced by Lisa Bellomo, Joana Vicente, Jason Kliot, Gretchen McGowan. Executive producers, Robert Redford, Michael Nozik, Michael Kafka. Co-executive producers, Charles Rusbasan, John Orlando. Co-producer, Yves Chevalier. Directed, written by Peter Mattei.

Crew

Camera (DuArt color), Stephen Kazmierski; editor, Myron Kerstein; music, Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Susan Block; art director, Lucio Seixas; costume designer, Catherine George; sound (Dolby), Theresa K. K. Radka; associate producer, Robyn Alcock; line producer, Allen Bain; assistant director, Carrie Fix; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken, Katharina Eggman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Dramatic -- noncompeting), Jan. 11, 2002. Running time: 89 MINS.

With

Greta - Vera Farmiga
Eddie Iovine - Domenick Lombardozzi
Ellen Walker - Jill Hennessy
Robert Walker - Malcolm Gets
Martin Kunkle - Steve Buscemi
Anna - Rosario Dawson
Nick - Adrian Grenier
Joey - Carol Kane
Will - Michael Imperioli
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more