E1 Entertainment // 2008 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 15th, 2010
When your computer's already your best friend, why not go all the way?
How much credit should one give a movie that doesn't quite work, but which at least has the nerve and the ambition to fall short while swinging for the fences? That's the kind of movie I tend to respond to most, which may or may not be a character flaw on my part, but which also can sometimes make it difficult to recommend a given title. The more movies I see and review, the more I appreciate the ones that stand out and try to do something different, but that doesn't always translate to a wider audience (if I'm being totally honest, it hardly ever does, actually). Thankfully, I can always take solace in the fact that my function as critic is not to predict the taste of the readers, but merely to report on what I personally like or do not like. It's the reader's job to infer whether or not a movie sounds like something they might enjoy, and to accept responsibility for that choice.
This, of course, is a very long-winded disclaimer for a discussion of writer/director Cameron Labine's "romantic comedy" Control Alt Delete, a movie that will undoubtedly put a lot of people off but which is not without merit for those looking for something that's quite a bit off the beaten path. It stars Tyler Labine (of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, also the director's brother) as Lewis, a computer programmer preparing for Y2K (the movie is set at the end of 1999, when we were all positive the world was going into technological meltdown). He's having trouble connecting sexually with his girlfriend (Alisen Down, Battlestar Galactica), most likely because he has a secret and obsessive internet porn habit. When his girlfriend finds out and dumps him, Lewis' habit continues to escalate until he eventually takes his relationship with his computer to the...next level...making it physical, if you know what I mean. You probably don't. It's the kind of thing you need to see to understand. At any rate, he also begins seeing a sweet and incredibly open-minded receptionist named Jane (referred to only as Fredrickson; in fact, every character in the movie is called only by their last names, which all end in 'son.' Fredrickson is played by Sonja Bennett of Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball), but his extra-curricular hobbies threaten to stand in the way of potential romantic fulfillment.
So there it is. Control Alt Delete is the movie where a guy has sex with his computer, and if it were that simple-minded or impressed with its own shock value, it would be easy to dismiss. Writer/director Labine has more on his mind than just this gimmick, though, and turns the movie into a surprisingly moody and thoughtful rumination on loneliness, potentially deviant sexuality and self-acceptance that's deeper and smarter than it has any right to be. It's a carefully controlled film, and Labine deftly stops it from going off the rails -- until the climax, of course, but even that can be interpreted as intentional absurdity. Sooner or later, the movie has to blow off the head of steam it's been building for nearly 90 minutes, and I guess the way the story resolves is the best way to do that. The lead performance by Tyler Labine is a big part of what makes the movie work; he's sad and a bit pathetic without becoming ugly, and that's a difficult line to walk. I was put off by his casting for a while, only because he's so naturally funny (as anyone who used to watch his performance on Reaper can attest) and it was hard seeing him reigned in. Eventually, though, the discomfort in that disconnect is what makes the performance so effective: we feel there's a different guy inside Lewis, just waiting to get out. It's the relationship with Fredrickson -- the sweet, completely unusual relationship -- that allows that to happen.
I realize even as I write about Control Alt Delete that I'm overlooking its faults in favor of what works about it, because as I was watching it I was aware that it wasn't all coming together in the manner I was hoping it would. Cameron Labine isn't quite able to articulate all of his themes as well as he would like, making it necessary for the viewer to fill in a lot of the blanks (which normally I'm a big fan of, but here it's not entirely intentional -- still, it's refreshing to see a movie that doesn't feel compelled to spell everything out). I'm also not sure setting the story under the looming threat of Y2K really pays off thematically, though I suppose Labine is trying to suggest that there's still a lot about technology we don't understand -- particularly our own relationship to it. I do appreciate that the movie is willing to examine alternative sexual fetishes without judging them (though the prudish may want to stay away, in case you hadn't figured out from the part about 'a guy has sex with his computer'). It's a long way to go for a story that's essentially about self-acceptance, but that's what makes the movie such a curiosity. It takes a conventional story and tells it in a totally unconventional way.
E1's DVD of Control Alt Delete features a nice-looking anamorphic transfer, which boasts solid black reproductions, accurate skin tones and a reasonable amount of detail. This is not a film that calls much attention to itself visually, but it's evident that the photography has been carefully planned out by Labine and the DVD does that justice. The 5.1 audio track is serviceable, keeping the dialogue up front and reserving the rear channels primarily for music (and a few flashier moments occurring late in the movie). The only extra feature included is a collection of interviews with the cast and writer/director Labine; though none of the segments are particularly great, it is interesting to hear each participant's take on what such an odd movie is actually trying to say. On the whole, Control Alt Delete is a modest movie, and E1 has put together an appropriately modest DVD to accompany it.
If you're someone who likes to seek out offbeat, original and (somewhat) thoughtful films, ask yourself this question: are you prepared for the sight of a heavyset man having sex with his computer? If the answer is "yes," by all means check out Control Alt Delete. But also take some time to reflect on the choices you've made in your life to get to that point.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site