Confess, Fletch starts off at a disadvantage. It's a reboot of the two-picture Chevy Chase franchise from the '80s. The original Fletch was a box office hit at the time, but it has grown into something much bigger. During a recent press event, I asked actress Geena Davis about the impact her supporting role has had on her career. She described encountering what she referred to as “Fletch-heads” – people who are obsessed with the film, know its dialogue by heart, and work quotes from it into their everyday lives. She's not wrong. Full confession: I'm one of those Fletch-heads. How do you successfully reboot source material that inspires that kind of reaction from its fans?
The answer, it turns out, is to avoid trying to out-Chevy Chevy Chase and just do a straight adaptation of one of Gregory McDonald's Fletch novels.
Jon Hamm takes over as Fletch. Retired from investigative reporting, he's in Boston to look for valuable artwork stolen from the family of his Italian girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo). Arriving at a rented apartment, he finds the body of a dead woman on the floor. Fletch reports it to the police, who send the methodical detective Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.) to the scene. Evidence, of course, points to Fletch as the killer, yet Monroe doesn't arrest him, to the dismay of his deputy, Griz (Ayden Mayeri). He wants to see how things play out. Fletch remains true to his journalistic background, launching his own concurrent investigation, against the cop's wishes.
Fletch was based on McDonald's original novel and remained true to the plot. Chase, however, added his own comedic stamp. The character often uses fake names in the books, just not the absurd ones the cinematic Fletch uses. (Sorry, no “Dr. Rosenpenis” on the page.) Dressing up in outlandish costumes was a Chase invention, too. Confess, Fletch hews much closer to the author's vision, presenting Irwin Maurice Fletcher as a wise-ass who can't help needling people in authority or anyone he deems as being in his way. In that sense, Hamm is a fantastic choice to tackle the role. He nails the character's "I'm smarter than you are" attitude. Scenes where Fletch lies about his identity to obtain information play more realistically, yet the star puts enough of a wise-guy spin on them to still make it funny.
McDonald was very committed to putting his creation amid colorful supporting characters, a quality director Greg Mottola (Superbad) and co-writer Zev Borow retain. Annie Mumolo (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) steals the show as Eve, the ditzy neighbor of the guy Fletch rented the apartment from. The two have an extended conversation in her kitchen where she causes one potential catastrophe after another, remaining blissfully unaware the entire time. It's one of the most hilarious sequences in any movie this year. Marcia Gay Harden is another standout as The Countess, Angela's flamboyant and intrusive mother, as is Kyle MacLachlan as Horan, a germophobic art dealer. (After someone uses one of his pens, they have to put it in a cup for “dirty” writing utensils.) As a bonus, you even get to see Hamm's Mad Men co-star John Slattery in a supporting role as Frank, Fletch's old newspaper boss. Having a variety of eccentrics for Fletch to cross paths with ensures consistent laughter.
Confess, Fletch gets the freewheeling tone of the novels right, too. The mystery is taken seriously, although the true pleasure is in watching the character enter a situation, assess what he needs, and outwit everybody else to get it. Where the movie stumbles slightly is in the third act. The resolution is delivered in a muddled manner, making it difficult to tie all the pieces together. Oddly, Fletch becomes marginally stupid in the climactic scene, too, which is a stark contrast to the rest of the picture – and the design of the character in general. That isn't enough to ruin the fun, but it does mildly deflate what should have been a knockout finale.
The obvious challenge here was to make a movie that could be enjoyed by Fletch-heads while still getting out from under the considerable shadow of Chevy Chase at his absolute peak. Confess, Fletch largely succeeds. A few individual moments go extra broad with the humor as a concession to that '80s classic. The majority of it, however, adheres to its literary inspiration. That will give it appeal to people who didn't like Chase's version. (You know, philistines.) For those of us who frequently make jokes about charging things to the Underhills, nothing will ever come close to the giddiness Fletch brings with each rewatch. This new version could have gone wrong innumerable ways, though, and it doesn't.
Confess, Fletch is a witty, enjoyable comedy in its own right, and with Jon Hamm making the character his own, I sincerely hope this creative team will bring more of McDonald's novels to the screen.
Note: To read my full thoughts on Fletch, Fletch Lives, and Chevy Chase's entire body of work, order my book My Year of Chevy: One Guy's Journey Through the Filmography of Chevy Chase in paperback or Kindle editions at Amazon.
out of four
Confess, Fletch is rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.