A Shock to the System (1990) made me fall in love with Michael Caine as an actor. Roger Ebert:
Caine is a splendid movie actor, a consummate professional who is fun to watch in any film, because there is always a layer of irony and fun right there below the surface. That makes him especially entertaining as a villain; his charm makes his sins seem permissible, or at least understandable. He rarely plays villains we hate. More often, we want him to get away with his sins. Since the sins he commits in “A Shock to the System” are wicked ones, that sets up a nice tension inside the movie. We see things from his point of view, we are invited to identify with him and yet when the Connecticut detective comes calling, we think it’s about time.
Ebert gave the film 3 of 4 stars without citing any deficiencies. This is a better movie than that. Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Gleiberman gave an “A” rating:
At the beginning of the exhilarating corporate satire A Shock to the System, the voice of Michael Caine comes on the sound track, soothing and seducing us as it has so many times before. That voice, with its halting cockney sparkle, its tones of ironic civility, is one of the most delicious sounds in movies, as unmistakable a comic signature as Chaplin’s bowlegged shuffle. Once again, Michael Caine is playing a sneak, a rogue, and drawing the audience into a conspiracy with him-the way he did in Alfie (1966), the movie that made him a star, and then 20 years later in Hannah and Her Sisters.
Only this time, Caine’s character is going to go farther- much farther. A Shock to the System is a black comedy played very, very close to the bone. Written by Andrew Klavan, and directed by the veteran independent filmmaker Jan Egleson, it’s a head-on satire of greed and power that’s also one of the most enticingly intimate portraits of American corporate life ever put on-screen.
Rounding out Caine’s brilliant performance is excellent support by Swoosie Kurtz, Elizabeth McGovern, Peter Riegert, and Will Patton as the tenacious detective. A trailer is not available that even comes close to doing this movie justice, so you’ll just have to trust me that you’ll like it. A Shock to the System is available on Hulu, or hunt down a DVD. This is one of those little movies that, despite featuring a big star in the leading role, and being absolutely terrific fun, has, sadly, so easily slipped under the floorboards, relegated to the ashcan of cinematic history. 9/10
And one more thing: bippity, boppity, BOO!
* * *
Comparison Notes (all recommended): American Psycho, Glengarry Glen Ross, Edmond, Wall Street
Michael Caine and Peter Riegert