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  • 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
  • This is a well-plotted, superbly cast follow up to the first Donald Strachey film, "Third Man Out." I personally found the subject matter—-sexual "healing" for gays—-more engrossing than the "outing" theme of the first film. Once again, Chad Allen is fascinating as the macho gay detective. And his back story—-he's an ex-soldier who was drummed out of the service for being gay—-more ably serves the screenplay this time around. The regulars all seem more comfortable in their roles, and it's nice to see Nelson Wong returning as Donald's secretary. Morgan Fairchild appears in a rather thankless cameo, and, although Sebastian Spence is a little less ditsy as Donald's lawyer boyfriend (Nora to Allen's Nick), Timmy, Allen's banter with Daryl Shuttleworth, as Detective Bub Bailey, and the other guys at the precinct is more fun. It's a first-class production, with director Ron Oliver making all the right moves, and Allen's acting is nothing short of brilliant: he does Emmy-caliber work in a surprisingly literate script.
  • A young gay man affiliated with a so-called "gay no more" program seeks help in finding someone, from gay PI Donald Strachey (well played by Chad Allen), in this second in a series of gay detective stories, from Director Ron Oliver. Before Strachey can pursue the investigation, the young man turns up dead.

    My impression is that the filmmakers here want the audience to focus on the dubious nature of the "gay therapy" pushed by political conservatives. However, I chose to watch this film as I would any other murder mystery.

    The killer was a person who was not high on my suspect list; so I enjoyed the surprise ending. However, Ron Oliver's apparent objective to spotlight the hideous agenda of social conservatives seemed to override the need for intricate plotting, necessary for a truly effective whodunit puzzle. Still, the mystery element was sufficiently credible, and I did spend quite a bit of time with it. The mystery's outcome has some clever irony.

    The visuals have a noir, retro look and feel, especially in Strachey's office, with those window blinds, the table fan, and the light and shadows. The opening credits sequence features some great B&W schematics and a terrific jazz score. In the second half, light and shadows, together with eerie music, and the image of a hooded figure running down a dark corridor combine to create some excellent suspense.

    Film direction is unobtrusive and simple, probably by design. I could have wished for fewer close-up shots. At times, the pace grinds almost to a halt in scenes with lengthy dialogue; however, this is not a problem if your attention is on the murder mystery.

    To watch this film as a social commentary on those dreadful "gay no more" programs can be enlightening and informative. But I enjoyed the murder mystery element. "Shock To The System" wasn't quite as good as "Third Man Out", in my opinion. But it was as good or better than countless other whodunit films I have seen.
  • ekeby5 August 2007
    Good script. Good acting. Good production. Good editing. Everything about it: good. Okay, maybe one or two weaker performances in minor roles, but nothing actually bad.

    I have to say, this strikes me as really a gay film. That might sound obvious, but hear me out. Brokeback Mountain is about same-sex attraction, unrequited love, etc., but in no way shape or form would I call it a gay movie. Shock to the System has a gay sensibility. We feel we're really in the gay community, observing the rest of the world from OUR point of view. Usually films with this perspective are sub par, if not very sub par.

    What a pleasant surprise to find a good genre picture made from our point of view. I really enjoyed this movie, and I was completely thrown by the various red herring strewn along the way. I'm no big fan of mysteries (a reason I wasn't particularly eager to see this movie), but this one kept me engrossed. The plot handily incorporates the subtext of what it is to be gay in a way that reinforces the story line. Kudos.

    The more I think about it, the more I have to say, much to my surprise, I really liked this movie.
  • "Trevor Cornell is one of the most successful reparative therapy providers in New York," says Timmy Callahan. "I wonder what his idea of 'successful' is," says Donald Strachey, a private eye. "Dressing badly," says Callahan, "decorating your home with duck decoys, breaking out in a rash whenever Barbra Streisand sings."

    To explain: Reparative therapy means conversion from being gay or lesbian into happy, contented heteroes. Timmy Callahan (Sebastian Spence) is a political type in Albany, New York. Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) is not only a capable and tough private eye in Albany, he and Timmy are married. "At least," as Strachey says, "as close as two men can get to it...more important, I'm in love with him." Those who find a gay agenda under every leaf, revolver and bloody baseball bat may not like this movie. On the other hand, those with a fondness for well-constructed mysteries that feature politics, victimization, murder, martinis and phenalzine should enjoy the story, the style of Donald Strachey and the puzzle. Bet you don't guess the murderer. It's worth pointing out that you don't need to be a collie to enjoy "Lassie" or a guy with a gut to enjoy John Wayne. And you don't need to be gay to enjoy Shock to the System. The movie has it's faults...it was made for cable with awkward acting in some of the secondary roles and it has that clean, careful look of most made-for-TV films. But the mystery is satisfyingly complicated, with a nice number of red herrings. Chad Allen makes a believable, interesting private eye. And his happy home life with Timmy would probably be the envy of many married couples, gay or straight.

    Paul Hale, a frightened 20-year-old man, wants Strachey to help him. But before he can tell Strachey what he wants, he is found dead. At first it's thought Hale died of a stroke, but when a lethal mixture of alcohol and barbiturates is found in Hale's system, Strachey decides to find out what was going on. And that takes him undercover to the Phoenix Foundation, a successful institution led by Dr. Trevor Cornell and his wife, where gays and lesbians, Dr. Cornell says, can find their true path to heterosexuality. It turns out that Hale was going to be a poster boy for the Foundation when Cornell announced a major push to go nation-wide with his cures. Not only does Strachey find himself taking part in group therapy and flashing back to his own earlier life, he gets threatened, beaten up, chased and shot. Almost as frightening, he encounter's Hale's wealthy, well-groomed and surgically-enhanced mother. "My son was not gay!" she says. "He was...confused." Strachey eventually solves the crime. Justice, formal and informal, is dealt out.

    Donald Strachey is the gay private eye in eight mysteries written by Richard Stevenson, beginning with Death Trick in 1981. They are first-rate reads with clever, involved and sometimes violent plots. In other words, they aren't gay mysteries...they're mysteries that happen to feature a gay private eye. Two of the books have been made into cable movies; this one was shown in 2006 and Third Man Out was shown in 2005. The books are well worth reading if you like mysteries. This movie is no classic, but it makes it's "gay agenda" points low-key enough that they don't interfere with the story. And although there is a bit of beef cake that shows up from time to time, one or two friendly smooches and a quick flash of frontal nudity, the movie has none of the leering smarminess that seems built-in to many of the boy-girl Hollywood films nowadays.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I just finished watching "Shock to the System" and I was absolutely amazed! This is a wonderfully made movie with a great plot and a terrific cast. I have not yet seen "Third Man Out", but it is now #1 on my list of movies to see. Chad Allen's performance in this movie showed just how talented he is as an actor. He has an amazing acting range and was allowed to show it in this movie. The scene where he tells Tim about his experience in the Army was one of the most emotional things I have seen in quite some time. I cried like a baby! Bravo to Chad Allen, the entire cast and crew, and writer Richard Stevenson for this wonderful experience! I will definitely own this movie when it is released on DVD. Do yourself a favor and check out "Shock to the System". You will not be disappointed!
  • This film is about a private investigator who investigates the death of a young man who hired him to find someone shortly before the death.

    I just watched "Third Man Out", so there is an inevitable comparison between the two. The mystery part is toned down compared to "Third Man Out", replaced with emotional elements about gay conversion. This makes the film melancholic and even saddening. To balance it off, there are more steamy scenes than "Third Man Out" to make "Shock to the System" more commercially appealing.

    The mystery part of the plot is hurt by the fact that all the leads point to a single suspect. If there were more suspects, then the mystery would have been more thrilling and engaging. Nevertheless, "Shock to the System" is an interesting mystery film with a emotional commentary on societal attitudes towards homosexuality. I find "Shock to the System" entertaining to watch.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A young man caught up in some "ex-gay" therapy organization asks PI Donald Strachey to find someone, slams a check in his hand for $5000 then winds up dead from an apparent overdose before he can tell the detective who he's looking for. Strachey suspects foul play and investigates the charismatic leader of the local anti-gay therapy group to see if they had something to do with the kid's death. Sure enough, secrets are exposed and more death comes and clues pile up and a little luck helps Donald in the end.

    I wish I could say I loved this little murder mystery, but "Shock to the System" is one of those projects that could have been so damn good in the hands of people who really cared. And I'm not referring to the actors. Chad Allen gives a fine, sometimes heartbreaking performance as Strachey. He's given able backup by Sebastian Spence as his life-partner and Nelson Wong as his new secretary with an attitude about his title. Even Morgan Fairchild does nicely with a thankless role.

    But director Ron Oliver and writer Ron McGee offer up such perfunctory work, and cinematographer C. Kim Miles lights everything at night so minimally that you can't see half of what's going on, you wind up with incoherent shots and second rate staging and a plot that has things happen because they have to happen at that point for the story to move along. I know this is supposed to be a noir-ish flick, with nods to "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" and "Out of the Past" and all that, but it's done without any sense of style, meaning or even a hint of passion to it. Compare the plots of those great movies to this one, and it comes across as written by a 13 year old.

    From here be spoilers so read not further if you don't want to know.

    Consider the murder of Larry, who was helping Strachey's client, Paul Hale. The guy's been invisible for days. Strachey can't find him. Nobody's seen him. But finally he surfaces in a place where it would be hard to get to him. He has just enough time to fill Strachey in on what was going on and drop an important clue when the lights go out. Strachey goes looking to see what's up, pistol drawn. And the killer kills Larry then has a shootout with Strachey and gets away. It wasn't just clumsily written and staged, it was absurd. How could the killer know Larry was there unless Stachey lead them there? How would the killer know Strachey would go the wrong way down the corridor to give said killer a chance to kill the kid? And if the killer DIDN'T know Strachey was there, how did they know to be there at the exact right time to find Larry? None of this is explained in the end. In fact, the final explanation makes no logical sense, not even when dealing with a warped mind. It was nearly insulting.

    BUT...and this is a big one...the script does delve somewhat into the question of ex-gay therapy and its philosophical and moral meaning. And the questions such people can raise, even in a relatively well-adjusted gay man -- like what would life had been like if I hadn't been gay? For raising those issues and for the lead actors, I give it a 7...which is above average, but it really could have been so much better if the director and writer and DP had really cared.
  • Shock To The System begins on a dark night with Chad Allen as openly gay private eye Donald Strachey meeting Jared Keeso who wants him to find somebody. No sooner does he hand Allen a $5000.00 retainer check than someone tries to run him down with a car. The next day he's found dead of a pill and liquor combination and the coroner calls it suicide.

    To even the dumbest cops you'll find in any detective story you don't hire a PI for a job and then kill yourself. But the Albany cops don't want to go any farther, but Allen has the scent. Young Keeso was the poster boy for an Ex-Gay therapy group the Phoenix Foundation headed by Michael Woods and his wife Anne Marie DeLuise. That seems the place to start though Keeso's mother Morgan Fairchild tells Allen that it was some gay seeking vengeance on her son for betraying the movement.

    In a move that requires real acting on his part, out and proud detective Chad Allen goes undercover in the foundation claiming to be a troubled gay man seeking a cure from the curse of homosexuality. Some of these scenes and later some scenes of self examination and introspection on his own life with partner Sebastian Spence show some really moving acting by Chad Allen.

    Shock To The System throws us a ton of red herrings as suspects and believe me you will never figure out the real motive for this and another homicide of one of the patients. That being said you won't figure out who the killer is. I didn't until about 30 seconds before it was revealed.

    Chad Allen has made four Strachey stories and hopefully will do more. Having the series shot in Canada I have to say that British Columbia doesn't look anything like Albany, New York so that's a bit of let down in the sense I'm familiar with Albany. But there is a more fundamental difference between these stories and most pulp detective work.

    Be it Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer or any of a thousand lesser imitations your basic straight detective is a love them and leave them type with a new dame in every story. But the Donald Strachey stories emphasize that Strachey is a domestic type who has settled down with the love of his life who works for a State Senator in Albany. The two are very much in love and the films and books show that at every opportunity.

    The books were written and the films made at a time when LGBT folks are pushing for marriage rights and in 2006 when this film was made we didn't have them in New York. It's interesting to speculate that the idea for a gay private eye originated 20 year previously or if such stories are written 20 years in the future when marriage is secured whether a pulp hero like Donald Strachey will be your typical detective loner dealing with a bar crowd and loving and leaving a succession of young party boys.

    And I would not dare speculate on what lesbian detective fiction might be like if someone is inspired to write a series of those stories.

    But at this point in time Donald Strachey is a hero of those times and hopefully we'll see more of him in future work.
  • spelvini27 September 2008
    Warning: Spoilers
    Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) meets Paul Hale (Jared Keeso) on a dark street just before a truck tries to run him down, and when the client ends up dead Strachey gets more than interested especially since the man has given him a five-thousand dollar retainer. He visits the man's mother Phyllis Hale (Morgan Fairchild) and discovers that her son was a poster child for a clinic specializing in "conversion therapy", turning gay men into straight men through consultation and a host of other mysterious means. Strachey goes undercover as a client at the clinic, led by a smooth-talking Dr. Trevor Cornell (Michael Woods) who conducts group sessions touting self-examination designed to empower gay men into thinking and living their lives in straight ways. Strachey himself has a damaged psyche and recalls with angst his time spent in the Army and a companion as they lived a secret life. When Strachey's husband Tim Callahan (Sebastian Spence) offers some information about one of the clinic's wealthy clients and another body turns up dead things get really twisted. When Strachey discovers a DVD with a potentially damaging documentary that Paul Hale was creating he suspects Dr. Cornell but after a shoot out and the discovery of the real murderer the truth about the clinic and some of the clients comes out in a thrilling ending.