“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.