Don't let the big names fool you: Control is a B movie. Accepted on B-movie terms, it's quite good, in the sense that it is often bad, but has the internal wisdom to keep things moving along and not look down. (The director, Tim Hunter, works mostly in TV, including a bunch of Mad Men episodes and, hilariously, the 90210 pilot.)
The movie begins with Lee Ray Oliver (Ray Liotta, very foxy in cracker-sociopath drag — he should consider sideburns as a permanent fixture) receiving a lethal injection for various murders for which he feels no remorse. Businesslike flashbacks to his crappy childhood let us know that, more than anything, he is a product of his surroundings. Cut, then, to Oliver waking up in the morgue to a reprieve, of sorts: Dr. Michael Copeland (Willem Dafoe), an employee of a semi-ethical Big Pharma giant, is testing a drug on antisocial criminals that, it is hoped, blocks their aggressive impulses and can restore them to society. Oliver can submit to the drug trial, or he can receive the death sentence as originally handed down. Oliver agrees to the trial.
This set-up, and what happens once the dosing begins, are interesting ideas: the nature-vs.-nurture debate; what effect a flood of previously-unfelt remorse might have on a man who has never acted with any before; what might take place when rageful aggression is no longer the default response to adversity. A 90-minute movie that also features Kathleen "Clare Arnold" Robertson making out with Willem Dafoe, however, is probably not going to make much headway on these questions. The good news, I guess, is that after the third time Oliver nearly escapes thanks to the lab's failure to restrain him properly (or at all) while the Big Pharma VP (played by Stephen Rea…bert the ferk?) frowns disapprovingly, you'll probably give up any hope of considered debate and just enjoy the slo-mo of Liotta jumping out a third-story window.
Control is full of inconsistencies and over-the-top-ular backstory that, on paper, sound insurmountable, but between the pacing and the performances, it works, in its way. Michelle Rodriguez and Liotta meet cute at the car wash and then go on a date to the fair? Ridiculous. She's half his age, and he's cut off the sideburns by that point. And yet, Liotta makes it work; he's not often called upon to play "bashfully charming," so it's a nice little gift when he does. Dr. Copeland's ostensible motivation on the drug-trial project is the death of his young son due to a road-rage incident? Please. But then Dafoe's exposition on the point is delivered briskly, with the right undertone of rue; despite the absurdity, you find yourself thinking, "Jesus, that's horrible."
Even Tim DeKay is pretty good; it looks like a hammy performance unless you grade him on the curve of the character as written, and said writing apparently consisted of little more than "unshaven redneck resentfully drinking his brother's disability checks." DeKay's a pro, though — Crisco in the hair, the whole bit — and then he has a nice little moment where he's just committed an actual felony and he's freaking out.
It's kind of dumb; the "reveal" is…in quotation marks; it won't make any AFI lists. But if you need a thriller to do your nails by, Control is just the thing.
Tags: Beverly Hills 90210 famous boyfriends henh? Kathleen Robertson Mad Men Michelle Rodriguez movies Ray Liotta Stephen Rea Tim DeKay Tim Hunter TV Willem Dafoe