A Shock to the System (1990)

A Shock to the System, Jan Egleson. This one slipped off the pop culture radar and little wonder: a British leading man beating the American corporate system at its own game was always going to be a hard sell in the States. It’s not shot as a dark comedy nor is it a thriller in any real sense of the genre. It is, however, a well plotted, well acted, well lensed, well edited middle-age angst movie in which the anti-hero wins. Michael Caine does his thing and does it well (not as somnolent as in Hannah and her Sisters [’86] nor as slapstick as in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels [’88]), giving some sympathy to a character who is, at the end of the day, just a callow shallow materialistic sexist pig who refers to himself in the third person as “he” and thinks he’s heir to Merlin. Oh, and he’s also a murderer. It’s that last bit that allows him to regain the magic that the aging process has taken away. It wouldn’t be until three years later when Michael Douglas would find a bag of machine guns in Falling Down that a middle-age white-guy would rediscover his mojo by turning violent…but at the end of that story, he gets his comeuppance by getting shot to death. What Egleson gives us instead is the anti-hero as success story.

Why watch this one? The pacing. The story unfolds in a modular construction that is articulated by the amazing soundtrack, modern art music performed by the Turtle Island Quartet (http://turtleislandquartet.com/our-story/). The suspense is built in angular lines of disconformity that keeps the story riveting even if the main character is thoroughly dislikable. Plus Caine is in top form and obviously enjoying himself.

Pop culture bonus: blink and you’ll miss him: young Samuel L. Jackson as leader of a three-card monte game.

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