A Shock to the System

Climbing the corporate ladder can be murder.

Crime Comedy
91 min     6.4     1990     USA


Madison Avenue executive Graham Marshall has paid his dues. A talented and devoted worker, he has suffered through mounting bills and a nagging wife with one thing to look forward to: a well-deserved promotion. But when the promotion is given to a loud-mouthed yuppie associate, Graham unleashes his rage on an overly aggressive panhandler, who he accidently kills by pushing him into the path of an oncoming subway train. He re-thinks his problems with an entirely new solution. First, he arranges an "accident" for his annoying wife. Then he creates another "mishap" for his boss. It seems like the world is once more Graham's oyster…but a missing cigarette lighter and a prying police detective may change all that.


John Chard wrote:
Graham has had enough of getting the shaft… A Shock to the System is directed by Jan Egleson and adapted to screenplay by Andrew Klavan from the novel written by Simon Brett. It stars Michael Caine, Elizabeth McGovern, Peter Riegert, Will Patton and Swoosie Kurtz. Music is by Gary Chang and cinematography by Paul Goldsmith. Graham Marshall (Caine) is once again overlooked for promotion and once again his harpy wife (Kurtz) belittles him.Then a heated exchange at the train station results in the accidental death of a beggar, and he gets away with it, something which gives Graham some devilish thoughts, one of Satan's light bulbs ignited above his head. By his own admission Michael Caine has readily done films just to pay the bills or build a new house. His success ratio as per great films and performances to bad films and tired performances probably stacks up as 1 in 10, consider this, in this same year he made Bullseye! What we do know though, is that when he gets it right he knocks it out the park and thus makes all his bad films easy to forgive. A Shock to the System is an under valued film on his CV, a brilliantly constructed black comedy that finds Caine effortlessly shifting through the emotional gears. From beat down Milquetoast to ruthless killer with a glint in his eye, Caine plays it to perfection. There's stabs of humour along the way, Caine a natural at this of course, and he even gets a young love interest in the form of the unbelievably cute Lizzie McGovern. Interesting to note that Graham's sex life improves greatly once the killing begins! Driven by an antagonist who toys with the audiences sympathies and moral repulsions, this is a film that's deserving of greater exposure and is ripe for re-evaluation. Great film, great Caine. 9/10
CinemaSerf wrote:
I enjoyed this. "Graham" (Michael Caine) gets a bit narked when he is overlooked for promotion at work. When he heads home, he realises that that is just the beginning of his irritations - his wife "Leslie" (Swoosie Kurtz) nags him relentlessly! What to do? Well, his house has some dodgy electrics and whilst trying to restore the lights, he gets a mild electric shock. His "Eureka" moment is upon him - he can just eliminate those who stand in his way, or annoy the hell out of him... What now ensues is a short series of cleverly thought out, well, "accidents" that enable him to rid himself of his wife and to occupy that all important corner office at work. Can he get away with it? The thing about Caine's performance here is that it engenders sympathy. You feel for the man - and I was certainly egging him on as his shenanigans start to attract the attentions of others - not least the insurance company inspector who is looking at their domestic wiring. Not even 90 minutes long, this flies by - good efforts from Caine, the usually rather bland Elizabeth McGovern, Kurtz and Peter Riegert as the smarmy, corporate man who stole his chair in the first place. Not laugh a minute, no - but it does raise a smile and make you wonder just how far you might go, if opportunity presented itself.