E1 Entertainment // 2008 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // July 21st, 2010
When your computer's your best friend, why not go all the way?
Remember the great Y2K scare of '99? I know it might be hard, what with the speed at which technology moves and the fact that it happened last century, but those of us who lived through it know just how frightening it was. Civilization on the verge of collapse all because computer code hadn't been written to include the first two digits of any given year. Two lousy numbers, the difference between 2000 and 00, and we all thought we were screwed. Well, maybe not everyone, but enough people to trigger a boom in the camping supply and canned food industries.
Of course, New Years Eve 1999 became New Years Day 2000 and nothing happened. At least, nothing major enough to send people running to their newly built bomb shelters. Some credited the smooth transition to the threat having been overhyped. Others credit the tireless efforts of computer programmers who worked around the clock to fix the bad code needed to keep things like banks and power grids functioning. People like Lewis Henderson, the main character in Cameron Labine's Control Alt Delete, a quirky indie film that explores just how far one man is willing to go to connect with technology.
I normally try not to spoil the plots of the movies I review, but in this case I think it's important to tell you that Control Alt Delete is about a guy who has sex with computers. Not metaphorically. Not figuratively. He literally drills holes in computers and has intercourse with them. That's not the only thing this movie is about, of course. It's about relationships, and individuality in the computer age, and accepting who you are. But it's also about computer sex. If you can get past that not-so-little detail, however, there's a lot to like about writer/director Labine's techno tale.
Lewis Henderson (Tyler Labine, Reaper) is under a lot of pressure. At work, he's a programmer trying to save the world from the Y2K bug, with just over a month until the calendar rolls over to the new millennium. He's also gunning for the same promotion as his office rival (Geoff Gustafson, Hot Tub Time Machine). At home, he's trying to work things out with his girlfriend, Sarah (Laura Bertram, Toxic Skies). Their problems in the bedroom are pushed to the breaking point when she discovers porn on his computer. Little does she know Lewis is hiding a darker desire: he wants to have sex with computers. After he gives into that desire at home, he takes his obsession to the workplace, taking advantage of a co-worker's desktop tower late one night. When the deed is discovered, he decides to deflect the suspicions of his boss (Alisen Down, Smallville) and best friend (Keith Dallas, Marmaduke) by asking out the new receptionist, Jane (Sonja Bennett, Battlestar Galactica), not knowing that she might have a secret of her own.
Control Alt Delete stars Cameron Labine's brother, Tyler, who fans of failed great TV shows will recognize from the CW series Reaper, where he played the goofy loser best friend, and Fox's short-lived Sons of Tucson, where he played the goofy loser lead. Control Alt Delete proves that Tyler Labine has more depth as an actor than he showed in either of those shows (much as I enjoyed them). He carries this film, giving Lewis the right amount of conflicted self-loathing, all while tackling the character with a fearlessness that allows him to explore and expose Lewis's secret obsession.
In the tech world, the late-'90s might as well be the late-'70s for as much as has changed in the past decade. Control Alt Delete captures the feeling of those early internet days, from the transition to sleek computer design from the tan tower models, to the desperate energy of an internet start-up company on the rise. Although the collapse of the tech bubble wouldn't happen for a few months after Y2K, by the lead-up to the year 2000 the writing was already on the wall. That paranoia provides the perfect backdrop for this story about a guy so confused about what it means to connect with this brave new world that he looks for comfort in a soulless tangle of wires.
Control Alt Delete isn't really a romantic comedy -- heck, it's not even really a comedy -- but the heart of the story comes from Lewis's awkward relationship with Jane, the leg-braced secretary, played by Sonja Bennett. Even within the arc their story follows, I wish the movie were more about the two of them than with Lewis's addiction. Bennett easily matches Labine in talent and onscreen presence, and to see her relegated to supporting character for so much of the movie is disappointing.
The rest of the cast is a solid mix of bit parts and borderline stereotypes. Since everyone calls each other by their last names, the shallowness of the supporting cast feels more like a Greek chorus than bad screenwriting. A few characters, like office jerk Gustafson, Lewis's officemate Keith, and their frenzied boss, Angela, get significant screentime, while others, like the enigmatic Sanderson (Jonathon Young, Sanctuary) -- a guy who complains about a growing numbness in his body -- flit in and out of the story as necessary.
Although Control Alt Delete isn't the kind of movie that cries out for a high-def release, the Blu-ray proves that, in the digital age, even low-budget movies can benefit from a boost in audio-video quality. The 1080i image doesn't match the fidelity of the best Blu-rays, but the level of detail is crisp throughout. From the soft blues of glowing computer monitors to the deep red of the Millenitech logo, colors are rich and natural. There are a couple of scenes where the bright sunlight starts to wash out skin tones and edges, but the overall image quality is surprisingly good. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally as impressive. Dialogue is always clear, and the rear speakers are given plenty to do. From subtle spatial effects to more atmospheric moments, it's a purposeful and effective mix.
The lone extra on the disc -- a 24-minute collection of interviews with everyone from the director and main actors to the producer, script supervisor, product designer, and co-costume designer -- isn't nearly as polished. In complete contrast to the feature, the audio is a muffled mess, and the picture looks like the widescreen was simply cropped from low-resolution streaming internet video.
Control Alt Delete is a unique indie film, but it suffers at times from the self-indulgence that plagues the genre. Even the computer sex idea feels overplayed by the end, taking screentime away from the more genuine character moments. And, once again, unless you are up for some fairly graphic scenes of a man making sweet love to a Pentium III, this might not be for you.
It would be easy to reduce Control Alt Delete to something like "Office Space meets Secretary," but there's more to Cameron Labine's film than aberrant sex and workplace high jinks. What it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in relevance. We no longer live in the shadow of Y2K, but maybe we'd be better off if the threat of technology was so obvious. Like Lewis, we're still in danger of being seduced by the screens we sit in front of. Even in a wireless world, connecting an ethernet cable can be easier than connecting with other people.
Lewis may be a little SCSI, but that's not a crime. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R