Sep 18, 2011

[Movies] Shock to the System (2006)

Shock to the System (2006)My continuing efforts to address a long overdue blog review has turned into quite an enjoyable movie watching spree. I suppose that's a testament to the original books that brought the character of gay detective Donald Strachey that has really helped things along for me. And after watching the first movie, Third Man Out, I was more than eager to dive into the next one.

Beyond the writing, actor Chad Allen has also proven himself to be quite the decent actor - or even more than that. His portrayal of Donald Strachey really helps stress how the fact that the character is gay isn't necessarily central to the plot. Instead, he's just another detective who just happens to have a loving husband / partner to come home to and who is more open to handling queer-related crimes.

I enjoyed this movie and the fact that they decided to maintain some semblance of continuity between the sequels. That really helps with longer-term character development and it's the sort of thing that really makes a series of movies feel like a more coherent franchise.

Shock to the System is a 2006 gay mystery movie that was originally released by the LGBT-aligned here! television network. The movie is roughly based on the Richard Stevenson novel of the same name although the source material was updated to reflect more modern times. It was directed by Ron Oliver with a screenplay by Ron McGee.

Actor Chad Allen in 2009.Image via WikipediaDetective Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) agrees to meet a potential client in your stereotypical dark alley. The client turns out to be one Paul Hale (Jared Keeso), who appears to be scared for his life given what he has to say to Donald. But just after paying a $5,000 retainer, a van appears and scares Paul away before he can give the details of the assignment. Regrettably, Paul shows up dead a few days later and thus Donald swears to find out why he died as a last service to the young man.

The only lead that he has on Paul, thanks to Don's partner Tim Callahan (Sebastian Spence) is the fact that Paul was the spokesperson for the Phoenix Foundation - a group that helps "convert" into gay men and women into heterosexual members of society. Thus Donald decides to attempt to go undercover as "Kyle" in order to find out what possible connection the foundation may have to Paul's death.

The movie also includes the return of Kenny Kwon (Nelson Wong) from the first movie. After getting fired due to Don's investigation, he manages to convince him to take him on as the office manager / assistant / junior detective. He's clearly meant as some degree of comic relief and a way to finally bring Don's office into order.

Where the previous movie dealt with the issue of forcibly outing others, this one tackled the often controversial subject of ex-gay conversion therapy. A lot of different religious groups tend to sponsor or host such facilities and retreats in an effort to provide some semblance of a resolution to queers trying to balance religion and their sexuality. Of course just giving up your gay identity probably isn't an actual "solution" when you really think about it, but the practice continues on.

Thus apart from the investigation itself, the movie also presented snippets of Donald Strachey's past, something we didn't learn much about in the first installment in this movie franchise. Through a series of brief yet powerful flashbacks, we slowly learn about Chad's time in the army and how he managed to get kicked out under the provisions of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. And Don certainly has quite the interesting backstory that certainly deserves the screen time.

The movie continues to provide ample time to establish how the relationship between Don and Tim works, and both Allen and Spence do a pretty good job of conveying their roles as two men in love. The movie's on-going ex-gay concept does weigh heavily on Don's mind and provides some added conflict and tension between the two, but of course we all know that they still have to be together at the end of things. They're too nice a couple not to, right?

The movie did feel a bit heavier than the last one, which I felt had a lot more comedy woven into things. This may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. However I felt there was certainly room to lighten things up a bit here and there. A good pulp mystery tends to balance those different elements while still moving forward with the overall plot and ultimately the case.

The Donald Strachey mysteries have definitely become a guilty pleasure of mine. I'm not even sure if the original books will carry the same weight with me, but at least I'm enjoying the movies that were made based on them. And that has to count for something, right?

Anyway, Shock to the System gets a respectable 3.5 creepy ex-gay therapy folks out of a possible 5.

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