A Journalist of Some Repute
I’m fond, perhaps too much, of saying that two things can be true at the same time. The first thing is that attempting to reboot a long-dormant franchise is foolish. Nobody is clamoring for a revival of Francis the Talking Mule. Millions of people online aren’t pestering studio bigwigs for an updated Ma and Pa Kettle. Some things, once cinematically dead, should stay dead.
So it was for the Fletch franchise. At least, I thought so. Long, long ago, Chevy Chase was one of the world’s biggest stars. 1987’s Fletch was a solid hit for him, and understandably so. It’s Chase’s favorite film of his, and it’s a solid comedy/mystery. 1989’s Fletch Lives is not. It’s profoundly half-assed, and that lack of care put the franchise into a coma. There was talk of Kevin Smith reviving it, talk of Jason Lee, then Zach Braff, then Jason Sudeikis playing Irwin Maurice Fletcher.
But do people really want Fletch back? From a nostalgia standpoint, maybe, and filmgoers of a certain age could be interested in such a thing. Younger filmgoers, though? I asked my kid if there was any interest from his peer group. Other than him*, very few of his friends knew who Chevy Chase was. None of them had heard of Fletch.
The second thing that’s true, though? Sometimes, if done properly, a rebooted franchise can feel like a breath of fresh air. Is Mad Max: Fury Road a reboot? Yeah, kinda, and it’s perfect. I would not have thought a reboot of Fletch would be any damn good, and it’s nice to report that I’m hilariously wrong. Confess, Fletch is a Chevy Chase-free reboot of the franchise, and I might like it more than the original.
For a while there, Irwin Fletcher (Jon Hamm) was an investigative reporter. A pretty good one, but he’s on hiatus. He was in Italy and was enjoying the charms of his new girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo). She’s part of quite a swanky family, so much so that her father has been abducted. The kidnappers don’t want money. Rather, they want a few insanely valuable paintings that have inconveniently been stolen from Angela’s family.
Fletch tries to help, and his investigation leads him to Boston. Conveniently, he borrows a nice townhouse while he’s snooping around. Inconveniently, the townhouse includes a dead woman. Even more inconveniently, he’s fingered as the murderer. Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.) and eager beaver trainee Griz (Ayden Mayeri) figure the evidence points to Fletch as the killer.
Things get very busy very quickly for Fletch, as he hustles to prove his innocence. He’ll also need to deal with a bananas Countess (Marcia Gay Harden), an art dealer (Kyle MacLachlan) with a sincere love of EDM, and his ex-editor Frank (John Slattery) who despises the state of modern journalism and would love to see Fletch come back to work.
There’s quite a lot of difference between the Fletch novels of Gregory McDonald (of which there are several) and the duology of films that Chevy Chase starred in. McDonald’s Fletch is more low-key in his sarcasm and mockery, and you won’t find him in a plethora of disguises. For Confess, Fletch, director Greg Mottola is more interested in adapting the tone of the novels. That’s a smart decision, and the result is a loose hangout movie with a wildly likable lead. Mottola keeps things moving along at a good clip. Even when things start to feel a smidge repetitive, such as Fletch repeatedly questioning suspects and discovering they’re outlandish, Mottola keeps things light and ensures enough time is spent in the scene to either advance the plot or have something funny happen.
You know the old complaint about horror/comedies, that they’re either not funny enough or not scary enough? The same problem rears its head here with the screenplay by Mottola and Zev Borrow. They’re adapting a comedy/mystery, and the mystery aspect of the story is only mildly compelling.** The main problem here is that Fletch is investigating the death of someone he doesn’t know in a city he has no connection to. I’m not saying we needed to discover that the victim is his long-lost grandniece, but a meatier whodunit would have been more interesting. In all fairness, I didn’t really care about that aspect too much as the screenplay is very, very funny. I laughed, giggled, chortled, and even guffawed a time or two. Borrow and Mottola have written a considerably witty screenplay with a wide variety of wordplay, sarcasm, a little surrealism, and some inspired physical bits.
Physical comedy and withering put-downs were Chevy Chase’s bread and butter. In his best films, he was excellent, but the main issue with Chase as a performer is that you rarely got the sense he gave a damn about what was happening on-screen. As a result, if he doesn’t care, why should the audience? As Fletch this time around, Jon Hamm nimbly dodges that pitfall. As much as he’s playing an arch quip-bot, Hamm is a warmer and less detached performer than Chase. Hamm is charming, likable, very amusing, and willing to make himself the butt of the joke occasionally.
Lest you worry that the film is Fletch relentlessly putting down a bunch of normal randos, worry no more. There is some of that, with the entertaining chemistry between Hamm and Roy Wood Jr.’s Inspector Monroe, a cop simultaneously dealing with a perplexing murder and a newborn. The vast majority of people Fletch comes into contact with are at least somewhat strange if not outright bizarre. Perhaps my favorite is Annie Mumolo’s Eve, a longtime neighbor. She’s an agent of chaos, though a warm-hearted one, and she simultaneously provides Fletch with useful information while accidentally lighting things on fire. The entire cast, in roles large and small, is game to get silly. They do such good work of dancing right up to the line of being too much, all orbiting the bemused Hamm.
Confess, Fletch will have a very limited theatrical release before it goes to streaming. Ordinarily, a low to medium-budget film like this wouldn’t have too much trouble making a tidy profit. However, there’s been nearly no promotion of this film. A wise studio would spread the word, then bring Hamm, Mattola, and the crew back every few years to work their way through adapting McDonald’s novels. While reviving dormant franchises usually isn’t such a hot idea, Confess, Fletch is the excellent exception.
*My kid made the very poor decision to have a movie dork for a father.
**In all fairness, I’ve only read a couple of the Fletch novels and I recall that the mystery aspects didn’t exactly light me on fire. It’s probably time for me to revisit them.