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  Shock to the System, A Bibbity Bobbity Boom
Year: 1990
Director: Jan Egleson
Stars: Michael Caine, Elizabeth McGovern, Peter Riegert, Swoosie Kurtz, Will Patton, Jenny Wright, John McMartin, Barbara Baxley, Haviland Morris, Philip Moon, Kent Broadhurst, Zach Grenier, David Schramm, Christopher Durang, Mike Starr, Samuel L. Jackson
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Graham Marshall (Michael Caine) is a lowly advertising executive whose wife, Leslie (Swoosie Kurtz), is quite happy to spend his money while his mother-in-law (Barbara Baxley) needles him. But things are looking up as it appears Marshall will be enjoying a much needed promotion - will this be the tonic that will give him more control over his life? The previous night he went down to the basement to attend to the fuse box that his wife keeps short-circuiting thanks to her exercise machine, and he received an electric shock that sent him across the room for his trouble. Oddly, this incident has given him a new perspective: he is no longer a nobody in business and at home, no, now he is a new Merlin, with magical powers...

A Shock to the System was a satirical, sinister tale that starts out as a weary comedy drama and ends as a reptilian thriller, with a superbly played anti-hero at its centre. It was scripted by Andrew Klavan - who also wrote the book White of the Eye, another difficult to categorise film, was based on - from the novel by Simon Brett, yet despite its star turn in the lead role, only found cult success. It takes a twisted view of office politics where the best way to get ahead is to be as ruthless as possible, treating your co-workers as pawns in a chess game and not being aversed to sacrificing a few lives along the way.

Marshall reflects on his grey life with his friend George (John McMartin) on the train into work, but there are other shocks in store, one for each of them, when the bosses decide to give the promotion Marshall wanted to his rival, Benham (Peter Riegert), and George is forced into retirement. To cap this, Leslie has been spending more than Marshall can afford, and he is reluctant to tell her of his situation in the office. Then something happens to give him a sense of power: while waiting in the subway, a down and out starts harrassing him for change, and an increasingly frustrated Marshall reacts by pushing him into the path of the next train.

Now he is a murderer and feels terror that he will be found out, but when he isn't Marshall is filled with a renewed potency. He sees that he can act as callously as he wants, and get away with it, believing that he has magical abilities. Caine stays controlled throughout, only occasionally letting his character's bitterness and rage spill over and when he does, his face contorted with fury, he seems a man possessed. But mostly he observes, meticulously planning his next method of oneupmanship which begins with getting rid of the person draining what he regards as his precious resources.

Yes, poor old Leslie is the next to go, as Marshall sets up the fuse box electrocution trick to operate when he leaves on a business trip. When he gets the call in his hotel room that there has been a terrible accident, he can't help but grin, but he might not be getting it all his own way because a tenacious detective (Will Patton) is investigating him, and as the bodies mount up, Marshall could be heading for a fall of overconfidence. In the meantime he traces his path up the corporate ladder, seduces young executive Stella (Elizabeth McGovern), and proceeds with his Machiavellian schemes. Although Caine is excellent, and you may sympathise with the downtrodden life he struggles out of, A Shock to the System leaves you uncertain as Marshall has transformed into a heartless villain; it's neatly put together, but has a sense of being a middle-aged revenge fantasy. Music by Gary Chang.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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