Frequently lofty in its spoken discourse, but with barely a thread of developed narrative or character context to make the debate engaging, let alone pointed, "Contractor's Routine" merits points for offbeat ambition if not much else.

Frequently lofty in its spoken discourse, but with barely a thread of developed narrative or character context to make the debate engaging, let alone pointed, “Contractor’s Routine” merits points for offbeat ambition if not much else. A San Francisco man struggles with universal issues — the meaning of existence, moral relativism, what comprises art, chaos vs. order in the universe, et al. — over the troubled course of a single day in this under-assembled, unsatisfying puzzle. Yuri Tsapayev’s first feature is ending a two-week rental run in San Francisco; further prospects will skew toward home formats.

Jacob (Kevin Giffin) is a 40-ish woodworker and artist whose former mentor (top-billed Tom Sizemore, mostly heard lecturing the protag on the soundtrack) isn’t the only voice in his head. The other is alter-ego Esau (an irksomely unfunny Richard Frederick), who tries to kid, goad and argue Jacob out of his more fatalistic ideas and potential actions. “How can you create that which you’ve already destroyed?” he nags Jacob, who responds, “I need destruction!”

At the close, we finally realize the extent of that need. But any mystery or suspense that ought to accrue toward that revelation is lost in “Routine’s” fragmentary progress, which defies involvement despite being well-shot and edited. Driving around the city with his imaginary friend, Jacob fantasizes about killing anyone who ticks him off — a woman who ignores her crying baby, his judo-class partner, his dentist — barely suppressing a rage that periodic childhood flashbacks do nothing to explain.

Seemingly without meaningful social contacts (when we briefly meet his “girlfriend,” she’s a vapid consumerist caricature who isn’t even physically attractive), his rage at everyone and everything is barely suppressed, or at least so we think. He demonstrates a creepy liking for living things perfectly, lifelessly preserved by shellac or vacuum sealage. What should be a shocking conclusion suggests he’s applied said preference more liberally than sanity should allow, but it emerges as muddled and undramatic as all that precedes it.

Onscreen constantly, Giffin is OK but struggles to make his character less of a cipher — or even an interesting cipher. Flirting with aspects of sci-fi (complete with some fleeting cosmic f/x), horror and tricky unreliable-narrator psychology, “Routine” might make most viewers wish it didn’t resist genre categorization and its simpler rewards so strenuously. Instead, it hews to a principal agenda of garrulous philosophical noodling, under which the film’s thin fictive elements slowly suffocate.

Assembly is resourceful, with Isiah Flores’ lensing worth special mention.

Contractor's Routine

Production

A Paralux Prods. presentation. Produced, directed, written by Yuri Tsapavez.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Isiah Flores; editor, Luke Rocheleau; music, John Piscitello; production designer, Tsapayev; visual effects, Ty Audronis; sound, Andrew Vernon; assistant director, Rocheleau. Reviewed at Opera Plaza Cinemas, San Francisco, June 14, 2011. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Tom Sizemore, Kevin Giffin, Richard Frederick, Julia Heller, Michael Ceniseroz, Leo Gladkov, Rita Rey, Danielle Perata, Montgomery Paulsen.

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