"Shock to the System" is a gay-detective yarn that plays it too straight. Donald Strachey (Chad Allen), who we're frequently reminded is the most famous gay private eye in Albany, is hired by a nervous young man who promptly turns up dead. The detective's investigation leads him to an organization that claims to "rehabilitate" homosexuals, where he meets a host of potential suspects.
"Shock" is the second movie to feature Allen as the detective from Richard Stevenson's books, with several more films planned. With its shadowy cinematography and '40s-style opening and closing music and credits, it's clear the filmmakers (led by director Ron "Queer As Folk" Oliver) are aiming for a gay noir. Unfortunately, what they settle for is less Mickey Spillane than movie of the week. The lack of grittiness in this would-be hard-boiled thriller is underscored by the preternaturally clean streets of "Albany," which look suspiciously safe and Canadian.
The movie's greatest obstacle, however, is its own earnestness. Where film noir is often punch-drunk with a jab of snappy patter and a left hook of world-weary cynicism, "Shock" tries to clinch with understanding. The murky broth of gay cures should be an excellent starter for a film (despite the stumbles of "But I'm a Cheerleader"), but this one is so grimly determined to be even-handed that it never generates tension. To its credit, its characters have unusual depth for the genre, and the actors give it the old college try. However, there aren't enough novelty, wit or sufficient shocks to the system to make this film memorable. Its strangest bedfellows turn out to be the filmmakers' noir aspirations and their good intentions.
`Shock to the System'
MPAA rating: R for some sexual content, nudity, language and a violent image
Distributed by Regent Releasing. Director Ron Oliver. Screenplay by Ron McGee, based on Richard Stevenson's Donald Strachey mystery novels. Producer Kirk Shaw. Director of photography C. Kim Miles. Editor Steve Schmidt. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
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