- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
Reviewed by Will Harris
I think we can all agree that Chevy Chase’s movie career has been, by anyone’s definition, rather spotty at best. But if you were forced at gunpoint to compile a film festival to honor the man’s best work, there’s no question that one of the best-attended screenings would be the one for “Fletch.”
Based on the novel by Gregory McDonald, Chase plays reporter Irwin Maurice Fletcher, who’s taken to being called by the nickname that gives the film its title. Fletch works under the byline of Jane Doe and tends to work undercover stories. As the movie begins, he’s strolling along a California beach, trying to infiltrate the drug trade that’s going on via a dealer named Fat Sam (George Wendt). While doing so, he’s approached by Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), a very rich man with a very unlikely proposition: he wants Fletch to kill him. It seems that Stanwyk has inoperable cancer, but if he’s murdered, his family will get the insurance money that would be denied them otherwise. Like any good journalist, Fletch is skeptical, which leads him to investigate Stanwyk at the same time he tries to complete the drug-trade story for his easily excitable editor (Richard Libertini).
Chase’s performance in “Fletch” walks the line between charmingly charismatic and completely smart-ass. Based on most reports, it owes as much to his improvisational abilities as it does to what was written on the printed page. The script, adapted from McDonald’s book by Andrew Bergman (“The Freshman,” “Honeymoon in Vegas”), almost feels like an afterthought at times, given the manner in which Chase freewheels his way through the film. This was a major annoyance for fans of McDonald’s book, since the character of Fletch had lots of great dialogue that would’ve gotten a great many laughs without Chase’s additions, but like so many great novels to make the transition from printed page to silver screen, it’s best when examined as its own entity. The cast is filled with familiar and dependable character actors, but most of them serve only to move the plot along and give Chase someone to bounce off of. Still, it would be remiss not to make specific mention Joe Don Baker’s turn as a villainous police chief and George Wyner’s role as the attorney of Fletch’s ex-wife.
The sequel, “Fletch Lives,” was in no way comparable to its predecessor – eight other novels about the character were written by McDonald, but Leon Capetanos felt that he could write a better original script (he couldn’t). But at least we have the original. It doesn’t work across the board (Fletch’s disguises are pretty silly, and that dream sequence with Kareem Abdul Jabbar still feels as completely out of place now as it did in 1985). Overall, it’s one of the so-called “classic comedies of the ‘80s” that actually lives up to its reputation.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The 2007 Jane Doe Edition of “Fletch” was a pretty lackluster DVD reissue in terms of the quantity (and quality) of bonus material, and unfortunately, nothing has changed since its jump to Blu-ray. While the 26-minute retrospective, “Just Charge It to the Underhills,” is a nice look back at the making of “Fletch,” the only other extras included are a brief featurette on Chevy Chase’s many disguises (“From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman") and a short video montage of classic moments from the film.