"Shock to the System" is a perfectly respectable second entry in the saga of gay private eye Donald Strachey. Made with television in mind but receiving a modest August theatrical run, Canuck helmer Ron Oliver's film noir-lite casts the founder of a center designed to turn gays and lesbians straight as the gumshoe's nemesis.

“Shock to the System” is a perfectly respectable second entry in the saga of gay private eye Donald Strachey (based on author Richard Stevenson’s books), which began with 2005′s “Third Man Out.” Made with television in mind but receiving a modest August theatrical run, Canuck helmer Ron Oliver’s film noir-lite casts the founder of a center designed to turn gays and lesbians straight as the gumshoe’s nemesis. Enough action, a tiny pinch of sex and some campy moments from Morgan Fairchild should the draw target aud in advance of a vid rendezvous.

Strachey (Chad Allen) finds his client (Jared Keeso’s Paul Hale) dead — supposedly by his own hand — before he can tell the p.i. whom he’s looking for. Not buying the suicide theory, Strachey sniffs a trail that leads from Hale’s in-denial mom (Fairchild), who fiercely blurts out “my son wasn’t gay!”) to Dr. Cornell (Michael Woods), a shady type who runs a gay “reparative therapy” center.

Husband Timmy (Sebastian Spence) enjoys helping Strachey piece together the clues, but on the street, the p.i. must go undercover to penetrate Cornell’s inner sanctum and learn the truth about Paul’s mysterious demise. A sidebar story involving ex-Army vet Strachey’s first love during the Gulf War is designed to add texture and poke a dig at “don’t-ask-don’t-tell,” but it’s simply an awkward appendix to this slight tale.

All of the genre’s required ingredients are here — from the slight comic relief with the new secretary in Strachey’s office to multiple suspects and Macguffins — to suggest that Oliver and screenwriter Ron McGee have affection for the tradition of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and “The Thin Man.” The twist of casting all of this within a gay prism seems clever enough, yet the pic can’t help appearing like a dress-up version of noir.

Impression is reinforced with surface thesping (except from Allen, who disdains the tough guy facade), and design and music contributions, all of which seem scaled to the small screen.

Shock to the System

Canada

Production

A Regent Releasing release of a Regent Releasing and here! TV presentation of a Shavick/Insight Studios production in association with here! TV. Produced by Kirk Shaw. Executive producers, Barry Krost, James Shavick, Paul Colichman. Directed by Ron Oliver. Screenplay, Ron McGee, based on the book by Richard Stevenson.

Crew

Camera (color, HD video), C. Kim Miles; editor, Steve Schmidt; music, Peter Allen; production designer, Rick Whitfield; costume designer, Sylvie Gendron; sound, Shawn Miller; visual effects supervisor, Richard Mintan; special effects, Brand FX; associate producers, Lindsay MacAdam, Randy Zalken, Stacey Belecos Shaw; creative consultant, Jeffrey Schenck; assistant director, Kevin Leslie. Reviewed on videodisc, Los Angeles, July 16, 2006. (In Outfest.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Chad Allen, Sebastian Spence, Michael Woods, Daryl Shuttleworth, Anne Marie DeLuise, Rikki Gagne, Morgan Fairchild.
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