Control (February 5/05)
Though it stars Ray Liotta and Willem Dafoe, Control has the feel of a typical straight-to-video flick - complete with overly-ambitious visuals and a screenplay that's far from polished. Were the movie to star Antonio Sabato Jr. and Eric Roberts, there's no doubt it would've come off a lot worse than it does. But with performers like Liotta and Dafoe (along with Stephen Rea and Michelle Rodriguez in supporting roles), the film is elevated to something that's surprisingly watchable - if entirely forgettable.
Liotta stars as Lee Ray Oliver, a violent sociopath sentenced to die for the brutal murders of several drug pushers and an innocent bystander. But instead of being injected with a lethal poison, Lee Ray is pumped full of sedatives and awakened several hours later in the county morgue. He receives an intriguing offer from one Dr. Copeland: agree to take some mood-altering medication or die right here, right now. Not surprisingly, Lee Ray chooses the former. Though Lee Ray makes a few fruitless attempts at escape, the pills eventually take hold - turning the man into a gentle, barely recognizable version of his former self. Dr. Copeland, satisfied that the drugs are working, sends Lee Ray to start a new life in a small town under an assumed name - where he quickly finds a job and falls in love with a local named Teresa (Rodriguez).
Control, directed by Tim Hunter, moves along at a brisk pace and features an expectedly stunning performance from Liotta - who does an effective job of portraying Lee Ray's transformation from anti-social maniac to kind and gentle auto mechanic. And while it hardly seems plausible that such a drug would be able to trigger such a dramatic change in a known psychopath, such questions are moot with a film of this sort. Screenwriters Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer spend very little time in exploring the dynamics of Copeland's invention, choosing instead to focus on Lee Ray's predicament - something that works to a certain extent, just so long as one doesn't dwell on the storyline's believability.
But try as it might, Control just can't shake that straight-to-video vibe. Slavkin and Swimmer prove to be fairly ineffective in creating intriguing supporting characters, with Michelle Rodriguez's Teresa the most obvious example of this. Aside from the fact that she's young enough to be Liotta's daughter, we're never given any indication of why this girl would fall for someone like Lee Ray (he's presumably a stand-in for her absent father, but that's never touched upon). Hunter's attempts at imbuing Control with stylistic touches are generally ineffective, and tend to enhance the obviousness of the film's low budget.
If you're a fan of either Liotta or Dafoe, Control is undoubtedly worth a look (hey, if nothing else, the film answers the question of what Liotta would look like with a soul patch).