“You’re f***ing kidding me” A Shock to the System – review

Straight outta nowhere, 101 Films dropped the slightly obscure Michael Caine classic, A Shock to the System, on a standard release Blu-ray, which became available on May 27th.  – This darkly comedic crime-thriller follows an overlooked corporate employee, Graham Marshall, who develops a delusion of invincibility after a freak accident, enabling him to climb his company’s corporate ladder.

A Shock the System constantly radiates humour despite the dark road it journeys down, and while the plot is quite absurd, the film succeeds in making a statement about the era’s “Yuppie” culture. The primary victims of the script’s criticisms are individuals who frequently live beyond their means, sometimes by no choice, and are solely focused on their status in their respective workplaces. The fact that viewers never really know what Graham nor his company does, speaks volumes of how it’s merely an afterthought in the narrative’s bigger picture. I see the film as a portrait of the quiet insanity that exists somewhere between the daily commute and the prospect of a big promotion that’s forever around the corner.

Michael Caine carries the film as our anti-hero, whose cockney accent in a sea of New Yorkers adds to the overall enjoyment. Of course, scenes where our leading man flies into obscenities are naturally hilarious and a major selling point. Graham’s rival, played by Peter Riegert, is perfectly snidey. At the same time, an aging colleague, George (John McMartin), is a sad contrast to his newfound wizardry, representing the countless many who struggle to find purpose in retirement. Swoosie Kurtz embodies the typical nagging wife who prioritises appearance over economics while Elizabeth McGovern as Graham’s attractive co-worker, Stella, offers a sympathetic ear. Finally, the underappreciated Will Patton as the very persistent Lt. Laker gives a performance that suits the film’s slightly off-beat nature.


101’s special features are identical to Shout Select’s 2017 Blu-ray release, but they’re a welcome addition to this Region B disc. Recorded in 2017, Jan Egleson’s commentary is worth a listen for some interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes and context for directorial decisions fans often find contentious such as the film’s muted colour tone and ending that deviates from the novel. A prior interview with Egleson, which appeared on an early DVD release of A Shock to the System, gives a condensed version of his main talking points in the commentary for those with less time to spare. Also of interest is an alternate ending which runs for six minutes and is in SD.  – by Hannah Lynch


It’s been seven years since A Shock to the System made its Blu-ray debut, and this latest edition has utilized the same HD master. There’s a noticeable amount of noise to the 1.85:1 image and some scenes look washed out, so you could say this classic remains an “unpolished gem.” However, a few scenes offer some vibrant colour, such as the first encounter between Graham and Lt. Laker. In fact, the picture is so clear that you can spot a garden spider clawing down the detective’s left shoulder, seemingly unknown to the actor. English subtitles are available for the disc’s 2.0 Stereo track, which is crystal clear and offers good volume for those cockney f-bombs to land with a smack.

A Shock to the System is thankfully not subject to limited stock as more people need to see this gem from 1990 that I think would serve as the perfect come down in a double feature with American Psycho.

(1990, director: Jan Egleson)



direct blu-ray screen captures


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