"Love in the Time of Money" is too clever by about nine-tenths. This roundelay plays like a health inspector's search for a chain of infection as it tracks from tryst to tryst across a New York suffering a cholera of too much money.
Sometimes the trysts happen, sometimes they don't happen, but always the camera churns onward, lurching from lover to lover. We open in squalor: a woman (Vera Farmiga) on a cold and windy corner somewhere near the docks, plying the world's oldest career without much in the way of enthusiasm. We follow her with a john, a tough young guy (Domenick Lombardozzi) who cheats her and runs off. Then we follow that guy -- a carpenter, it turns out -- to a moment the next day when he's seduced by a wealthy young wife (Jill Hennessy), in revenge for the disinterest of her bisexual husband (Malcolm Gets). The focus then becomes the husband, then his lover (Steve Buscemi), who probably isn't gay after all, then that fellow's object of affection, an art gallery receptionist (Rosario Dawson of "The Adventures of Plato Nash"), then that object of affection's object of affection.
Toward the end, the young filmmaker Peter Mattei is getting desperate, and the only connection he can come up with is pretty lame: One of the trysters doubles as a phone psychic, so she's there when a last and most flamboyant client calls in. Actually, this tete-a-tete is the movie's best, featuring the great Michael Imperioli (Christopher of "The Sopranos") as a stockbroker at the end of a very bad day. He and Carol Kane -- the phone psychic, distraught over being rejected by a younger man -- do the phone call thing brilliantly, as the camera cuts between the desperate broker and the emotionally devastated woman. Each tries to find a shred of humanity and hope. Guess what? They don't.
The movie then connects with the hooker again, to close the circle. Mattei actually has a flair for the upscale more than the downscale; his evocation of life among the rich is effortlessly convincing, and Hennessy's performance as the scorned wife is piercing. But the usually excellent Buscemi is only marginally convincing as the artist who lets the bisexual husband have his way in exchange for a career advance.
"Love in the Time of Money" manages to make sex look like no fun at all.
Love in the Time of Money (89 minutes, at Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge) is rated R for intense sexuality and profanity.