'Shock to the System'

After this cutesy whodunit adapted from Richard Stevenson's long-running mystery series, the late Mickey Spillane must be spinning in his crypt. Not because it features a gay private eye—let alone one who makes his first big appearance bobbing up from his husband's lap—but because it packs all the pulpy authenticity of rotgut served from a teapot. In his second outing (after last year's Third Man Out) as Stevenson's Albany- based shamus Donald Strachey, Chad Allen again flexes the hard-boiled chops he honed on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Here, the suave gumshoe with the Bloomsbury namesake and the absurdly vanilla spouse (Sebastian Spence) goes undercover to check out a shady conversion-therapy clinic, dodging bullets, hit-and-run attempts, and the hungry looks of a recovering boy toy (Shawn Roberts) whose conversion ain't exactly taking. Tentatively mixing homage, genre subversion, and quippy Remington Steele–style Detective Lite, director Ron Oliver applies a thin veneer of straight-to-cable pseudo-gloss without finding a workable tone, and the cast lacks the charisma and chemistry to make the genre and gender-bending register as more than novelty: In this crew, as a sinister dowager, '80s prime-time soap queen Morgan Fairchild stands out like Isabelle Huppert.

 
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