Star projects underwhelm Sundance

Smaller films continue to generate buzz

While smaller projects and documentaries continued to generate buzz as Sundance started drawing to a close, star-driven vehicles like the Robert De Niro pic “What Just Happened?” and “The Great Buck Howard,” which Tom Hanks produced and co-starred in, held all of the appeal of three-day-old fish.

“What Just Happened?” — in particular — entered the fest with a roar and a great deal of enthusiasm. Still, even a red-carpet appearance by De Niro himself could do little to prevent the insider Hollywood tale from leaving Park City with a whimper.

As for the overall deal mojo, although several films hovered on the verge of landing distributors, only one found a home in the past 24 hours. Sony Pictures Classics scooped up U.S. rights to the fest’s dramatic competition entry “Frozen River,” for low- to mid-six figures.

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William Morris Independent repped the film, which was written and directed by tyro helmer Courtney Hunt and centered on a woman caught up in poverty and human smuggling in rural upstate New York.

Meanwhile, it was deja vu for a number of pics that remained in a holding pattern with interested buyers.

Distribution deals were expected for the Deep South-set drama “Ballast” and the Colin Farrell-narrated soccer documentary “Kicking It,” which was acquired earlier in the fest by ESPN.

Three buyers were courting the Duplass brothers’ relationship-themed comedy “Baghead,” with another three possibly coming to the table. The Weinstein Co. circled the Russian-language fairy tale “Mermaid,” but no deal had been inked by early evening.

The ensemble wine country drama “Bottle Shock,” which unspooled nearly a week ago, fielded offers, as buyers were in play for Stacy Peralta’s Crips and Bloods documentary.

Multiple buyers spent the day circling the feel-good drama “Phoebe in Wonderland” and the Spanish-language CG-laden “Sleep Dealer,” which had IFC in the hunt.