The most entertaining and original part of Routines comes less than ten minutes in. The comedy opens with Bruce Mann (Michael Bugard) performing his stand up routine for a less than enthusiastic audience. See, his schtick is to tell awful jokes, with trite, obvious punchlines, and offensive content. Then, a plant in the audience heckles him, and the two get into a fight on stage that ends with the comic being punched out.
It is a great payoff for a routine that is not all that funny. It is the one moment where the film manages to be both amusing and poignant, as it explores Bruce’s headspace clearly and effectively. Of course, this potential plot of a comic needing to grapple with his style clashing with today’s social norms goes by the wayside right after the altercation. If only writer-director Domenic Migliore had devoted more of the movie’s runtime to exploring some internal complexity or nuance it might have been something of note. Instead, the film follows Bruce’s life, in all its ups and downs with nothing on its mind beyond passive observation.
The biggest up comes after he meets singer Darling Wednesday (Anita Nicole Brown), and the two hit it off immediately. After a brief courtship, they get married, and she becomes the plant for his shows. She gets along quite well with Bruce’s parents, as they all share a fondness for older, classic movies (Key Largo and such). But tragedy strikes, and Darling dies. While grieving, Bruce meets Sandy (Kaylee Williams), a big fan of his, and the two begin a contentious relationship.
“While grieving, Bruce meets Sandy…the two begin a contentious relationship.”
These life changes do not endow the film with any tension or momentum. Bruce’s stage persona is not too far removed from his actual personality, and it’s such an unstable, unfriendly presence that him befriending anyone, much less getting involved in two intimate relationships, is unbelievable. But Bruce has women literally walk into his life wanting him, and that is their sole defining feature. Yes, Darling sings and likes old movies, but what does she see in Bruce? What in her life was missing until he came along?
Sandy is straight-edge (a term I am certain was retired from the lexicon before I graduated high school), so her being drawn into the alcoholic and cocaine loving comic’s life makes even less sense. And since she is meant to be such a big fan of Bruce’s, his extracurricular activities should not be too surprising. Again, what is Sandy getting out of dating someone double her age, whose star has long since faded, and with whom she shares zero interests?
Bruce himself feels very inauthentic, in part because Michael Bugrad is one-note as the comic. He has exactly two ways of speaking: flat indifference, including when he’s proposing to Darling, and disdainfully angry, which is the default attitude of the character. Yes, Bruce is written that way, but the actor does not bring nuance or charm to the role. When meeting Darling, he is supposedly impressed by a song she was just singing. Bugrad’s monotone delivery means that Bruce seems annoyed at everything, even when what is being said is supposed to be cordial. It is a bafflingly bad performance that keeps the audience at arm’s length the entire runtime.
"…the viewer will be left bored..."