Watching Fletch is like drinking a 2-liter bottle of Sprite. It is, at best, desensitizing; at worst, nauseating and dizzying. What might have been zesty and refreshing in a small dose becomes borderline toxic in abundance.
The “Sprite” in this analogy is Chevy Chase’s ad lib-heavy comic presence. Fletch exists entirely as a vehicle for Chase to make snarky one-liners in improvised personas. Many of these quips revolve around him having a large penis and most definitely not being gay. To be sure, he is a naturally funny comedian and leading man. His delivery is intuitively great for his specific, smarmy shtick. It’s just awfully repetitive over 95 minutes.
The bones of Fletch are reasonably well-constructed. Director Michael Ritchie stays out of the way. The small bits of action and vehicular chases are modestly effective, but not the real draw of the film. Some of the interiors and costumes are aggressively ‘80s. These period details half the fun of any mid-’80s blockbuster for me.
If the visuals are unassuming, the score is the opposite: Harold Faltermeyer leans in with an aggressively ‘80s score. I’m not exactly sure why every ‘80s action-comedy has this exact sound, filled with synths and busy drum machine loops and a prickly melody. It isn’t a bad composition, but it doesn’t really suit the tone of the film: Whenever it toggles on, it’s like the film hitting your shin with a crowbars, demanding to be taken seriously.
I appreciate that the story is an intriguing, well-paced mystery. As an investigative reporter, Fletch is a sanded-down version of a hardboiled detective, trusting neither institutions nor erratic criminals. The movie threads together the two central cases of a mysterious drug supply at a heavily-policed junkie hangout with a millionaire plotting his own murder for an insurance payout. It is, honestly, worthy of a more narratively ambitious film. Fletch just churns through the mystery as structure for Chase’s riffing.
In general, that struggle to modulate between tones is a bit of a problem for the film. It’s somewhat jarring to be at a turning point in the plot, only for Chase to make a dick joke and some side character hands over an important piece of evidence. This happens about eight times in the movie.
There are a few inspired gags. When Fletch does some investigation at a country club, he keeps charging ludicrous items to the “Underwoods,” some couple he doesn’t know, which gets a pretty funny payoff. And at its most rhythmic, the dialogue is almost screwball in nature, but this depends on someone who can match Chase in delivery: e.g. George Wendt and Tim Matheson, who are both underused.
Despite my mixed tone, I’m overall quite happy that Fletch exists. We as a culture should encourage getting the most out of artists who bring something unique. This is probably the best possible vehicle for Chase, who, smarmy though he is, does indeed bring a unique comic presence. It’s just one that I’d rather get slightly less than 2 liters of.