Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shocked on the Fourth of July

The movie we watched on the Fourth of July was A Shock to the System, based on a novel by Simon Brett and starring Michael Caine.  The film was released in 1990 and I don't recall seeing any ads for it back then, but I've never been a huge Michael Caine fan so I just might not having been paying attention.  Having seen it once, though, I plan to watch it again in the not-too-distant future.

Caine plays Graham Marshall, a corporate executive suffering from a midlife crisis.  His personal life is burdened by debt and a whining, snobbish wife (Swoozie Kurtz at her finest), and he's just been passed over for an important promotion at work.  The faulty electrical system in his McMansion suggests a nearly foolproof way to eliminate his wife, and once he does so his life takes a turn for the better.  He retrenches by moving to a New York City apartment and starts an affair with an attractive co-worker who's been admiring him from afar (Elizabeth McGovern).  Now if only he could get rid of the ruthless, smarmy jerk who landed the promotion he should have had...

The first half of this film was hilarious, but the second half was decidedly less so.  Initally we are all sorry for Graham, the nice guy who finishes last, and after listening to his wife for less than half an hour I would almost have been willing to murder her myself.  Somewhere in mid-movie, though, Caine's character first morphs into one of the corporate sharks he's always detested and then surpasses them in ruthlessness.  One cannot help but fear that McGovern's character won't make it through the affair alive.

As I said, I've never been a Michael Caine fan, but I was impressed by the way he made Graham a believable character all the way through his transition from Mr. Nice Guy to Mr. Hyde.  The supporting cast was also very fine, particularly Kurtz, McGovern, and Peter Riegert, the underling who leapfrogs over Graham on the corporate ladder, and the murder scenarios were very ingenious.  Note to self: stay away from light fixtures with dangling electrical tape.

"Climbing the corporate ladder can be murder." ~tagline for A Shock to the System

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