My recollection of Jan Egleson‘s A Shock To The System (’90) is that it was a deliciously dark satire about a harried, middle-aged, losing-his-mojo advertising executive (Michael Caine) who decides to stop being the victim and play hard and dirty with all the people who’ve been threatening his job, injecting anxiety and otherwise making him miserable.
The film basically allows you to snicker along with Caine as he savors the meaning of the phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold.”
I’m writing this because I watched this trailer a while ago and went “what the?…this isn’t some dippy, feel-good comedy for morons…it’s about the satisfaction of giving bad people a taste of their own medicine.” The trailer is so full of shit that it reminded me of that online Shining trailer from 10 or 12 years ago that tried to sell Stanley Kubrick‘s 1980 horror film as a heartwarming family comedy.
From Owen Gleiberman‘s Entertainment Weekly review: “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, Caine is playing a sneak, a rogue, and drawing the audience into a conspiracy with him-the way he did in Alfie (’66), the movie that made him a star, and then 20 years later in Hannah and Her Sisters. Only this time, his 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.
“Caine plays Graham Marshall, a New York advertising executive who begins each day by bidding good-bye to his pampered, demanding wife (Swoosie Kurtz) and riding the train in from suburban Connecticut. The Marshalls have no children, but between mortgage payments and conspicuous consumption (Mrs. Marshall favors an electronic exercise machine), they’re pretty strapped. Graham really needs the promotion he’s up for, and besides, after many years of dedicated toil, he’s earned it. Yet all is not well at the office.
“Graham’s company has been snapped up by a conglomerate, and a new breed of executive is taking over. Suddenly, the office is crawling with ruthlessly efficient young climbers like Robert Benham (Peter Riegert), a tight-lipped cad who wins the respect and confidence of his overseers precisely because he treats business as an inhuman profession.
“This is all disgusting to Graham. He’s a crack executive who never has let his zest for business stop him from being a nice guy. Now, when he should be reaping the fruits of his career, he’s being treated not as a sage old lion but as a dog.
“Full of bile and fear, Graham decides to take action — meticulous, cold-blooded action. And when he does, he feels good. Calm. Happy. Justified. He almost might be saying, ‘So, you want to play without humanity, without rules? I’ll show you no rules.’ As if inspired by the Devil himself, Graham starts to beat the cutthroats at their own game.
“A Shock to the System is never richer than when Caine and Riegert are facing off over the question of which man will light the other’s cigar. The movie is juicy fun, a high comedy about the personality of power.”