A Shock to the System (1990) Poster

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Great black comedy
preppy-35 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Caine, a mild-mannered successful businessman, is passed over for a big promotion that goes to a younger man (Peter Riegert). While waiting for the subway one night, a bum bothers him for money. Upset over his job he accidentally pushes the guy onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train killing him completely. Nobody sees him do it and he feels a great sense of power and freedom over getting away with it. Now he decides to go after everybody else who wronged him...

This little gem came out in 1990. I remember it got great reviews and I saw it with a sold-out audience that applauded at the end. Since then it's just disappeared. Why? Probably because it's an intelligent, scary, very black and very funny movie. My guess is that this movie was too dark for most viewers to handle. That's a shame--it's a real good movie.

The direction is great--crooked camera angles are used to convey Caine's state of mind and a great sequence that cross-cuts between a double murder and him with Elizabeth McGovern (an office worker he supposedly falls in love with). The movie is short (about 90 minutes)...just as long as it should be. Caine is superb in his role. You see him slowly turn from a quiet, unassuming man into a ruthless, cunning killer--a really great acting job. McGovern has the unenviable role of "the girl" but pulls it off and her makes her character sympathetic and believable. All the roles are well done by a cast of top character actors.

A very good movie. Here's hoping it someday gets the recognition it deserves.
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Graham has had enough of getting the shaft
hitchcockthelegend15 November 2014
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
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Grade: B+
tideprince10 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
A scathing, skillfully made indictment of the go-go '80s. What impressed me most about this movie is how trim it is. It clocks in at a swift 93 minutes, and the time goes by very quickly. I was shocked when I realized that the climax was approaching.

This is a movie that's very heavy on symbolism, but it's not the kind of symbolism that hits you over the head. Cigars, lighters, magic, electrical appliances, homelessness, vehicles - all of these things take on symbolic significance in the film, but it's not anything you think about until the movie's over. In an era where directors treat audiences like stupid sheep, hence turning the audiences into said animals, it's nice to see a movie that's more of a throwback.

Michael Caine plays Graham Marshall, an upper level executive at the Gibb Corporation. Interestingly, we are never told exactly what Gibb DOES, only that Graham is in the marketing department. Graham is expecting a promotion to head of the department, as is his shrewish, greedy wife (Swoosie Kurtz). Graham is passed over for an obnoxious, younger, well-coiffed schmuck (Peter Riegert), who immediately goes about making Graham as obsolete as possible in order to eliminate some of the competition. After being passed over, and after an unfortunate incident involving the more-or-less accidental subway murder of a beggarly vagrant, Graham begins to come just a tad unglued.

He starts by calmly killing his wife. Envigorated by her death, he moves out of their country home, buys an apartment in the city, and initiates an affair with a co-worker (Elizabeth McGovern). Graham is still unsatisfied, however, and decides to kill his boss, using his new girlfriend as a cover. The plan works to perfection until a cop (Will Patton, with stunningly bad hair) starts sniffing around. Then Graham needs to deviate from the plan.

What's so great about this movie is the ending. The way that Graham digs himself out of trouble is so simple that some would almost call it unbelievable, and that would be a valid opinion. Another opinion (the one I happen to hold) is that it's poetic and stark and perfectly in line with the number one rule of satire: make them laugh, then make them realize that it's really not funny at all.

Michael Caine, one of our finest actors, picks this movie up and carries it on his back. It all hinges on his performance, which is wonderful. Over the course of an hour and a half, he goes from a meek, henpecked marketing executive to a sleek, dangerous, carnivorous Wall Street animal - it's something of an ancestor to Christian Bale's work in "American Psycho". The supporting cast is just that - supportive. They all acquit themselves nicely, but it's Caine's picture.

Rent this one. Very much worth the four bucks.
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A Michael Caine Classic
G-R-Lea22 April 2004
Little-noticed on release and little-seen thereafter, the annoying thing is that this has to rate as one of Caine's better films; yet trying to find a copy of/transmission of it (at least in the UK) can be quite difficult.

Caine's portrayal of the central character, Graham Marshall, an advertising executive sidelined and humiliated during a corporate restructuring, is deliciously wicked (even down to his devilish facial expressions), both in its comedy and thriller components. Elizabeth McGovern, playing the role of Stella, Marshall's PA, is sweetly convincing as the innocent dupe in Marshall's subsequent plotting.

Part of the (admittedly dark) fun with this film is that, thanks to the monumental unpleasantness of the characters which Marshall comes up against, you really want him to do terrible things and to get away with them. Enjoy!!
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Brilliance rarely seen
hmag7 August 2004
I saw this movie about 10 years ago during a sick day from work & never forgot it. I finally got it on DVD this week & the impact is still there. I have never seen it again until now & I am wondering why it's not re-screened more often.

The story has a timeless quality & although I'm not a big Michael Caine film, this film showcases his brilliance, from subtle facial expressions to wryly amusing scenes such as where he is almost caught out.

Whilst Caine is the obvious star, the support cast are perfectly cast, from the sleazy new boss to the suspicious cop, to the naive girlfriend & the has-been retired manager, each actor does their job perfectly.

Like The Game, starring Michael Douglas, this is one film you need to watch from start to finish to understand the complexity of the plot.

Definitely one of my favourite films of all time.
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Crime DOES Pay if You Kill Horrible People!!!
alicecbr21 September 1999
Who says Michael Caine is a so-so actor? He plays the perfect combination of a truly nice guy ground down by his shrewish wife, his slimy peer-then-boss, and corporate life, in general. Movies like this give us corporate slaves a little relief from the utter amoral depravity of the 'civilized' world we inhabit in these rabbit warrens, otherwise known as 'Cubical Hell'.

This man makes you completely sympathize with every one of his murders, all nicely planned to look like accidents. In fact, I am amazed that some lawyer hasn't pulled the 'Shock to the System' defense. Certainly, it has as much attraction for the frustrated as the films usually blamed. It's just more subtle, more high-brow and takes a little more finesse.

The detective is wonderfully nosy, but how he can walk up to Caine in the middle of New York City is quite amazing to me. A little too much dramatic license, too much coincidence to be believable but you tend to forget your logical approach to life.

Reality is easily suspended as Caine gets in his licks for all the humuliations we nice people have suffered in the corporate world, where the rapacious are rewarded by CEO salaries. The laughs are fast and furious, all delivered in that great understated British fashion.

Mr. Downtrodden gets his licks in and when the new boss talks about his Cessna, you've already fixed the engine. There are traces of 'The Ruling Class' in here, as Mr. Nice Guy becomes king of the mountain by firing everyone 'who is not a contributor', thus ingratiating himself with Mr. Cessna. McGovern gives her Basset hound, soulful looks all through the film, and you feel her conflict about turning this wonderful guy in. She is promoted out and away, and all is well, which is usual for corporate shenanigans. They just usually don't involve murder.

Buy it and love it. Forget the professional reviewers for once on this. It's not meant to be 'Hamlet'.
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good one
rupie7 August 2002
Not much to add to the generally favorable reviews contained herein, except to wonder at the relative scarcity of this flick on tv. It's a puzzlement, considering its intelligence and high quality. Michael Caine reeks malevolence and malice as Graham Marshall, the cutthroat executive on the make. He really is one of the great actors of our day. Highly recommended.
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Excellent little-known film
rdsla28 January 2005
I am surprised that there are no comments on this film, as it is really a small gem dealing with corporate ladder-climbing. The two leads, Michael Caine and Peter Riegert, clash in their aspirations to ascend within their company, and the results of their competition are intriguing and entertaining to say the least. Michael Caine is excellent as always, using his unique ability to blend the deadly and the humorous together. Thus the film is leavened with ironic humor for a great blend of suspense and wit. The ending is the crowning touch. I recommend this film to anyone. It's on TV periodically, but best to see it on tape for full effect (I am not sure if it's available on DVD yet, but that's what I would hope for.)
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Caine makes it his own
smatysia27 October 2003
A charming black comedy. I first saw this on cable around 1991, (had never heard of it, even though it did apparently have a theatrical release) and that's when I really saw the acting genius of Michael Caine. He took a basically inconsequential film, in which he was arguably miscast (being a Brit), and turned it into a really good, enjoyable movie. You root for his character despite his wickedness. Honorable mention to the lovely Elizabeth McGovern. Check it out. Grade: B+
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Caine shines over simple story
zzzorf7 March 2018
This wasn't a bad movie overall and while I didn't full in love it I would revisit it again. The storyline was simple and easy to follow and that simpleness was put to shame by having Caine as the lead actor, putting on a performance that made the movie better, just as you would expect.
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Wickedly funny
kingbad19 February 1999
Perfect, dark skewering of the cutthroat nature of American corporate culture. Initially I thought that Michael Caine was an odd choice for a very American movie (written by a Brit, of course!), but Caine's heavy, almost reptilian features make this murderous schemer seem all the more deadly- and funny.
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Ealing Studios-quality dark comedy
lordhack_9917 September 2001
Watch this gem along with KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. This is the kind of film which nourishes a starving mind. It never makes me laugh, rather the way that Python did not, when I watched them debut in the 70s here: I just sat there, mouth agape, at the intelligence.
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Another Superb Michael Caine
kaljic20 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
If any movie exemplifies the pitfalls of the upwardly mobile 1990's, it this movie here, A Shock to the System. It glorifies, yet vilifies, the face of corporate mobility, the infighting, the shifting loyalties, the costs and what it really takes to make it to the top.

There are undeniable elements of dark humor in this movie. The other reviews are testament to this part of the movie. There is more social commentary present. Corporate attitude and disparity in the social classes are plainly set out and exhibited. This can be seen in the many portions of the movie where Caine the corporate warrior walks past homeless people camped in the streets of New York. The superficial camaraderie and brutal, smiling infighting of corporate life has rarely been better captured on film.

The movie features the music of Gary Chang played by the Turtle Island Quartet, which adds to the bittersweet atmosphere of this film.

The topping of this movie is the acting of Michael Caine. Caine brilliantly portrays a corporate officer who has been turned down to a promotion. Through machinations and scheming, he covets the higher position and eliminates everyone in his way. His acting in this movie is a gem in a long and stellar career.
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Murders happen when you don't promote someone deserving.
mianaliilyas78622 October 2010
Micheal Caine is one of my favorite actor, and its very seldom when he don't do the justice to the role he plays. This movie is no exception. Anyone who had or is been working for corporate business can understand the dirty politics and immoral working ethics, and the depiction of this dilemma in this movie was immaculately pictured. Well the movie goes smoothly, but the only thing which boggles mind is the easy escape provided to Micheal Caine. But overall idea depicts how these corporate firms sucks the all humanly characteristics out and left you with selfish desires. But i don't know why through out the movie all my sympathies were with Caine!
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Once again Cain proves he is able.
=G=16 November 2002
Anyone who has ever wished an annoying person in their life would just disappear will vicariously enjoy Graham Marshall (Cain) in the sardonic comedy "Shock to the System" who, belittled at home and passed over at the office, decides to take control of his destiny by eliminating those interfering with his happiness. Self narrated by Cain, often in the third person to impart a sense of detachment, the film manages to make the murderous Marshall both hero and villain as he courts a lovely secretary (McGovern) while befuddling a nosey homicide investigator (Patton). Cain's performance makes this otherwise mediocre film well worth watching. (B-)
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Climbing to the top... by any means.
lost-in-limbo21 April 2019
All that hard work, dreaming of that well-deserved promotion, by putting in everyday. Starting from scratch working your way to the top. Just one step to go. One step up that ladder. However sometimes dreams aren't meant to be, no matter the effort you put in and the confidence you bestow. Someone else comes in and snatches it right under your nose. You were that sure of yourself, focused right in, everyone talking you up, even your wife. It was yours. Eyes on the prize, but you didn't realize what was happening around you. There was unknown competition from within. Someone you trusted. Now that high hits rock bottom. Your pride is shot. Until you realise it's all clockwork in this dog eat dog world. No sitting back. Make it happen... by any means.

"A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM" feeds off it, by presenting a dry, biting drama with a violent twist. Filled with dark understated humor, personal psychosis and merciless corporate satire a seasoned New York marketing executive turns to murder, after an incident in the subway to resolve those "difficulties". So he goes about setting up one fatal accident after another, in the process of making his life easier and to get that position... he deserved. But one little slip-up could see it all come crashing down.

Directed with style, cinematography showed elasticity and a score vigorously on key. However the thing that stood out was Michael Caine... pretty much doing his usual Michael Caine shtick. He's the life of the party here, pitch-perfect in delivery. His likable, laidback persona gets used, and downtrodden on. The anger is released with some venomous sprays. Knowing now, getting what he wants he needs to be coldly calculative, sly, string people along and thinking outside the box (possibly murder) to make it happen. His interactions with Swoosie Krutz (playing his materialistic wife) were some of the best moments. Sometimes the plot can be a little too elaborate in the consequences and suspicions (prying detective), but it did catch me off guard. I didn't expect the finale to go down the path it did. Fortune favors the brave in this heartless, controlled corporate world.
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Graham the Yuppie Slayer
BaronBl00d6 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Graham Marshall seems to have everything: a beautiful, dutiful wife. a great high-paying job in advertisement. A large, sprawling country estate where he can commute to the big city. Trouble starts for Graham when all this becomes dubious and questions arise about just how wonderful all these things really are. At its core A Shock to the System makes one think about what is important in life. For Graham it is really none of these things - because in some ways he never really had them. This is a first-rate black comedy along the lines of a Kind Hearts and Coronets(no Alec Guiness playing eight roles here) with Michael Caine giving a wickedly funny, humanizing portrayal of a man just trying to keep up with what is expected with the corporate ladder and maintaining the perching power that comes with being at the top. Caine, to borrow another reviewer's succinct modifier, is very Machivellian as he whittles away at all those people that stand in his way of keeping/maintaining/achieving power. Caine does it while making us like him. A true feat as we see him really do quite horrible things to quite horrible people. Based on Simon Brett's novel A Shock to the System is a morality play with no moral other than the end does indeed justify the means. Michael Caine glides through the role of this middle-age man being passed up at home and at work with charm, pathos, and his ever present wry sense of humour. This film is just fun and the dialog and script in general generate numerous good scenes as well as fresh plot developments. Aiding Caine is a well-experienced cast of good quality actors like Swoosie Kurtz as his hair-brained, belittling wife, Elizabeth McGovern as his beautiful, trustworthy secretary, John McMartin as his over-the-hill, tired, flat boss George, and Peter Riegert as the new young buck out to wipe the floor with anyone that stands in his yuppie way to the top of the business. Throughout the film we get Michael Caine narrating to us his thoughts and his mental evolution. Some of the best lines come here. Although very funny, depraved too I will give a bit as well, A Shock to the System pokes fun at the corporate environment, the Yuppie Revolution, and the whole keeping up with the Jones' mentality that affects American society so thoroughly today. Director Jan Egleson does a masterful job making us care and like Caine despite his killing for the horrible reason of supporting some kind of Social Darwinism. All of the victims are very unlikable characters embodying some catastrophic fatal flaw of what it takes to rise to the top. Definitely worth a look and easily the easiest way to succeed in business without even trying.
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Extremely funny and with Michael Caine in great shape
Rodrigo_Amaro1 September 2012
In a time where succeeding at things is more important than just make something good and be satisfied with what you have and what you are "A Shock to the System" is the real article on how things go in our heads everyday when we don't get the things we want, or feel that we deserve them. The things we want to do with everyone in our way are greatly and humored to a certain extent by the character played by Michael Caine, an veteran executive that after not getting the job promotion he was hoping for, given to an incompetent and younger rival, starts to get rid off the people who are ruining his life and starts to concentrate his efforts in trying to be promoted. And there's time to have a small affair with his young and beautiful secretary (Elizabeth McGovern). By getting rid off, I mean in the Patrick Bateman style. To him those people, his demanding wife, his former colleague now current boss, they doesn't deserve to live.

Viciously funny, well-acted and more relevant to our times than to the yuppie era when this was released, "A Shock to the System" is perhaps one of the finest examples of dark humor to ever be used on screen. It's not violent like one might think it could be, or ridiculously comical neither so serious. It makes good statements about the day to day pressures, the lack of reward one has while working hard at everything, but such statement is presented in a light and entertaining way.

And it's such a pleasure to see Michael Caine carefully plan his actions and later desperately trying to get away with murder. The one involving his wife (Swoosie Kurtz) is priceless. It took some real time to make me laugh but when that part came in, with his reaction on the phone, I really knew I was watching something special. It's a electric and powerful performance in a underrated film. My only problem comes to the investigation led by Will Patton's character. It's too unlikely that he was the responsible for investigating the wife's "accidental" death and the boat explosion, just with the logic that there's too many deaths around Caine's character. The movie would benefit more without the detective character, or reduce to the minimum the coincidences of him following the executive.

Here's a small film that accomplishes so much more than the big ones with larger than life budgets and no story to tell. This one has one to tell and it's a very good one. 9/10
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A Better Corporate Ladder
Canino-413 October 1999
Here was the first, and maybe the best hero of the 90's. Graham has been passed over for a promotion that everybody in his office knew he was going to get. And who gets it, but a weasly cigar smoking, boat owning, money loving yupster named Robert Benham.

Now, this probably happened a million times over in the junk bond, crush the little guy 80's. But it's doubtful that many of those caught in the squeeze were as resourceful as our hero Graham is. All it takes is an overzealous panhandler and a subway platform to teach Graham what it takes to survive in the business world. Once he learns, the only way to go is straight up.

Michael Caine's wry performance as Graham is a treat. From his valiant attempts to placate his shrewish wife, to his tirades at his new boss, to his convenient bewitching of a female officemate, Caine constantly pulls us into his corner.

Peter Riegert as the weasel, Swoosie Kurtz as the shrew, and Elizabeth McGovern as the smitten colleague add to the fun, hitting each note perfectly. All three develop their characters quite nicely, without slowing the story a bit.

If you're looking for shrill black humor, you won't be satisfied with Shock to the System. It is a mean film, but it's far too subtle, and not kinetic enough for the Tarantino crowd. This movie is all about stealth. Graham quietly brings the Madison avenue crowd to there knees. Sure, a few bodies pile up, but even Jerry Rubin grew to admire the corporate sharks that were spawned during the greed grab 80's. Anybody who could change from a draftcard burning hippie to a silk suit wearing yuppie would certainly identify with Graham's transformation.

I only hope Graham was more lucky than Jerry. Mr. Rubin and his briefcase left this world several years back, courtesy of an inattentive driver. If you understand this type of irony, you'll enjoy Shock to the System.
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A deliciously dark comedy
MOscarbradley12 September 2014
Michael Caine made "A Shock to the System" in 1990 and I must have blinked and missed it, (me and a lot of others). He's Graham Marshall, a corporate businessman who is passed over for promotion in favour of his hot-shot subordinate Peter Riegert. Naturally, he doesn't take this too well. In fact, he feels that he's cursed in some way and he really should do something about it. As it turns out, "A Shock to the System" is a deliciously funny and dark comedy about a man who will go to any lengths, including murder, if it means getting ahead and Caine is terrific, (it's actually one of his best performances), and he's backed by an equally terrific supporting cast. Riegert is superbly slimy as Caine's new boss; then there's Elizabeth McGovern as the colleague who takes a shine to him, Swoosie Kurtz as his social-climbing wife, John McMartin as the out-going head of department and Will Patton as a very inquisitive cop. The director was Jon Egelson who doesn't revert to any tricks to tell his tale but rather relies on the quality of his material and his cast and it and they don't let him down.
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good movie
murli78625 September 2005
Its a good thriller. Michael Caine as usual has given a controlled and riveting performance. I guess the title of the movie was a Let Down. It should have been a catchy one and i guess that would have made a lot of difference to the outcome of this film.

Its a simple story of office politics where one man feels victimised for not getting a promotion that he felt truly deserved. And when he is denied his right, he begins his revenge. And all the murders in the movie are well planned and perfectly executed. Its one of those movies where the protagonist is left standing and comes out a 100% winner. If anyone out there who is really a vindictive kind can take inputs from this movie and renact it in real life. Well, I wouldn't do it for sure. Will u? Check the movie out first and then decide
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Bippity, boppity...boom.
Hey_Sweden19 July 2017
Michael Caine is absolutely terrific in this combination dark comedy / corporate satire. He plays Graham Marshall, veteran executive at the Gibb Corporation. He's married to a shrewish woman named Leslie (Swoosie Kurtz), who regularly puts him down. Supposedly in line for a big promotion at work, he's obliged to watch as a slimy younger co-worker, Bob (Peter Riegert), gets the gig instead. When he accidentally causes the death of a panhandler, and nobody seemingly witnesses the act, he feels emboldened. Now his plan is to get back at the people who have done him wrong.

Unfortunately, "A Shock to the System" is never quite as satisfying as this viewer would have liked. It needed a little more bite; as it is, director Jan Egleson ("Billy in the Lowlands") has a rather light touch. Still, it's not without interest as a comment on how old pros like Graham, and his friend George (John McMartin), find their livelihood threatened by the young turks in the corporate world. Where it succeeds the most is when it follows the activities of our merry antagonist, who's come too far and worked too hard to want to back down. One good thing: it wraps up in a tidy 88 minutes, making its points and telling its story in a fairly succinct manner.

Ultimately, the movie is just okay, but it's made a must see by the dynamic performance of Mr. Caine. It's great fun to hear him use profanities and otherwise lose his *beep*, and one can relate to him enough that you do sympathize with him and are amused with his newfound attitude. Elizabeth McGovern is lovely and adorable as the colleague who realizes that she's attracted to him. The rest of the supporting cast is all first-rate: Riegert, Kurtz, Will Patton as an investigating detective, Jenny Wright as a secretary, Barbara Baxley as Kurtz' mother, and Haviland Morris as Bob's ravishing lady friend. Familiar faces in character roles include Kent Broadhurst, Zach Grenier, David Schramm, Mike Starr, and Samuel L. Jackson.

If you're a Caine fan and want to check out some of the lesser known items on his resume, this one does hold your attention for its duration.

Six out of 10.
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Michael Raises Caine in "Shock To The System"
zardoz-1329 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Director Jan Egleson's corporate revenge thriller "A Shock to the System" is the kind of movie where evil trounces evil. Michael Caine is cast as a career-minded adverting executive with a wife and a mortgage who is in line for a richly deserved promotion. Everybody believes that he will get his promotion, including his wife who like to short out their home electric system with her stair master exercise machine. Unfortunately, Graham Marshall (Michael Caine of "Funeral in Berlin) learns to his chagrin that he has lost his promotion to another company employment. The humor underlying this big business melodrama is as hopelessly amoral as the protagonist is murderous. Caine is a genuinely evil. He winds up killing his way to the top of his advertising firm. A family man who rides a commuter train to work in New York City in the morning, Graham isn't pleased about losing his long-sought affair promotion. The first half of the action is slow-going, with lots of exposition, but Egleson ramps up the action considerably during the second half. Our hero Graham Marshall"), isn't pleased when a younger man, Robert Benham (Peter Riegert of "Animal House"), lands the promotion. Caine has to kiss ass while Benham takes the company in a different direction. Meanwhile, Graham is having trouble with his wife, Leslie (Swoosie Kurtz), and her infernal stair-master machine. Virtually, every time that she uses the exercise machine, the stairmaster shortens out the electricity and Graham has to reset it. He gets the surprise of his life when he is shocked trying to reset his breaking box. In short, Graham kills his wife as well as several more corporate big-wigs until he ends up running the business. "A Shock to the System" is a ghoulish bit of nonsense that doesn't wear out its welcome at 88 minutes.
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Wow...talk about your mid-life crisis!!
MartinHafer21 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Caine plays a reasonably successful but disaffected middle-aged executive. He has a very good job and home--but he also has a wife who seems more interested in what his job will buy her and he isn't given a promotion EVERYONE thought he'd get. One day he is attacked by a homeless guy and accidentally kills him. Yet, despite happening at a subways stop in New York, no one sees this happen and he's able to just walk away from this like it never happened. However, oddly, instead of being saddened or scared by this event, Caine is thrilled! He starts to feel invulnerable...almost magical. So, after his wife pushes him too far, he experiments to see if once again he can get away with killing her, too. When this occurs, Caine decides he's pretty much invulnerable and decides to try his luck again...after all, killing can be like potato chips--you can't stop at just one! Talk about a bad mid-life crisis!!

I am not sure if this is meant as a dark comedy or just a suspense film--all I know is that it made me laugh...and wonder just how many smart guys like Cains character do what he did and never get caught. Very well written and unique. It's certainly not a film for everyone--especially with its VERY unconventional ending, but I sure liked it and think it's an unnoticed little gem.

By the way, on the DVD there is an alternate ending. This ending stank...so I really think they did the right thing sticking with the darker ending.
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a gem
projectmogul15 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Almost effortlessly accomplished, A Shock to the System absolutely exudes confidence and remains a minor - if largely still unknown - classic. Caine is on real form as the tale's moral black hole, conjuring a performance of occasionally genuine surprise (witness Caine's hilarious reaction to his wife's death, or his utter bewilderment/rage over being passed over for promotion).

With Gary Chang's dexterous score and the production's nimble, well-framed cinematography, it's one of those rare films that allows you to absolutely relax, confident that you are in good hands. A similar case could be made for Liliana Cavani's superb Ripley's Game which is charted by an equally immoral (but again highly satisfying) compass.
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