In the mid-80s, Chevy Chase starred in two Fletch movies based off of Gregory McDonald’s comedic detective novels. Then, for 35 years, the franchise lay dormant, until 2022’s reboot. I recently caught up with 1985’s Fletch for the first time and had a mixed reaction to it. I laughed a few times but felt like I snorted Chevy Chase directly into my bloodstream and overdosed on his swaggering adlibbing.
The new Fletch stars Jon Hamm, which is a total curveball. My good friend Nate recently commented that he’s not wild about this casting, and I can see the point: Hamm is older and conveys as a more serious actor than Chase. Fletch as a character is inherently a bit of a snotty brat, which is quite different Hamm’s more intense vibe. Although Hamm is most famous as Don Draper, a very prestige, serious TV acting role, he has done comedy work plenty of times, and honestly seems to do a pretty even split of comedy and drama work these days. So it’s not that much of a stretch of a casting.
Suppose we rejected Hamm, though. If not him, then who, though? Comedy has never been less financially viable in the domestic box office than it is now, unless you count CGI animated films, which I don’t for the purpose of this exercise. Thus, it’s not like we have high-profile comedians coming out the gills. Who out there would have been the right Fletch? Someone younger and with a bit more edge, perhaps. Not Pete Davidson, dear God no, but someone of his generation and ilk might have fit.
I have to say, though, I diverge from Nate in evaluating Hamm’s performance. I think he’s fine. Quite funny; certainly not problematic. He gets some good deliveries, and he’s charismatic. He can carry a film. He’s not really Fletch in the same way that Chase was, but he’s something different and more pleasant to spend the film with.
More crucially to the success of the film — which I do think is a successful film, moreso than the original — is that Fletch the character seems more properly integrated into the film and story. Whether it’s Hamm or director Greg Mottola or the screenplay (co-written by Mottola), this version of Fletch actually feels like a proper character in a film, not just a joke-delivering mechanism. Characters actually react to things he says in semi-pluasible manner rather than being Jedi mind-tricked by dick jokes. I actually felt invested in the story and the dynamics between Fletch and various characters.
The flip side of that is that Confess, Fletch is not really that funny of a comedy. It’s more funny-ish. It has the tenor and tone of comedy. You spend most of the runtime smiling, but not much of it laughing. If you’re looking for a true comedy, Confess, Fletch will underwhelm, especially compared to the joke-heavy original. Nothing here matches the silliness of Chase’s best punchlines.
While I think the mystery story of a missing painting and false murder accusation works well, it has its hiccups. There’s something off about the pacing of the film, particularly in the first act, where we get an in media res-style opening and then a flashback that feels inelegant and jury-rigged, with weird exposition dumps. The second and third acts flow a bit more smoothly. (Also, what the hell is up with the bare feet? That’s got to be a book detail, included for no obvious reason.)
I really like a bunch of the performances in the cast: Roy Wood, Jr. and Ayden Mayeri are charming as the cops — Mayeri in particular has great chemistry with Hamm as a gung-ho rookie. All of the quirky suspects and witnesses in the film get a scene or two to chomp up, though I got a bit tired of Marcia Gay Harden’s entitled heiress towards the end.
It’s not the type of movie destined to make many best-of-the-year or favorite lists, but looking back on the slate of 2022 movies I’ve seen, it ranks up there in terms of pure viewing pleasure. It’s just a good, old-fashioned, entertaining blend of mystery story and comedy film. I’m not sure it got enough box office traction to warrant a sequel. And even if it did, I’m not sure I’d want one; after all, the first Fletch got a second film and nobody seems to like that. So I’ll take what I can get, and what I got is a rare reboot I like slightly more than the famous original.