Richard Stevenson's gay mystery novels based on his creation of Donald Strachey, Private Investigator have found the perfect crew to transform these very interesting and entertaining stories to film. SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM is the second in the series and as adapted for the screen by Ron McGee, directed with panache by Ron Oliver, and starring the very fine actor Chad Allen as the sleuth with couth and style and charisma the results are a polished little gem of a film. But aside from the fact that the film is so well put together, it presents gay people in roles that are so far away from the usual stereotypical types that their sexual proclivity is in many ways simply incidental: you have to look long and hard to find a solid healthy gay relationship as well portrayed as that between Strachey and his life partner Tim (the very fine Sebastian Spence).
The story this time around involves Strachey's being asked to help one Paul Hale (Jared Keeso), the supposed poster boy for the Phoenix Foundation, a 'turn gay people straight' institute run by Dr. Trevor Cornell (Michael Woods) and his wife Lynn (Anne Marie Loder). Paul is soon found dead and the implications are suicide. But Strachey suspects foul play (we later discover Hale was his first love in the Army!) and aided by Hale's mother Phyllis (Morgan Fairchild looking terrific and acting well) who encouraged her son's joining the Phoenix Foundation, he begins his own style of investigation.
Strachey wisely 'becomes a patient' with Dr. Cornell and in group therapy makes discoveries and friends with those who eventually help to solve the case: a strong group of actors including Rikki Gagne, Stephen Huszar, Ryan Kennedy, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Shawn Roberts, Dany Papineau, and Gerry Morton. The clues are laid out, the deaths follow and the truths finally surface. And all the while Strachey is supported by Tim, by a very fine comic actor Nelson Wong as his 'office manager', and by his 'boss' Detective Bailey (Daryl Shuttleworth).
The dialogue is crisp, relevant, intense when it needs to be and funny when it relaxes, the cinematography takes a beautiful bow to the old Hollywood film noir techniques, and the cast is excellent, filled with not only a lot of eye candy but also with some very well realized characterizations. In the end the film belongs to the very hunky and versatile Chad Allen, only making wait for the next installment in this very successful series! Highly recommended for all audiences. Grady Harp
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