Fletch (1985)

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.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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3 replies on “Fletch (1985)”

Booooo… how dare anyone not fully appreciate the greatness of Fletch.

Kidding… I get it. I love this movie, but I’d never show it to somebody cold and guarantee they’d like it. The Ringer’s Rewatchables podcast on this one is fun – I like the point they make early on, which is basically that if you’re not totally on Chevy’s wavelength, this movie will do nothing for you. But I always have been, and there are 3-4 scenes here that make me laugh as hard as anything, even after repeated viewings. (Though this is definitely not his best movie imo.)

As for the new one, though… someone needs to explain to me why Powers That Be thought Jon Hamm – a solemn, intense actor who never, ever sounds like he’s making a joke – would be a good Fletch. Maybe he was the only big name who wanted to get the project off the ground, but the casting seems like a mind-boggling choice to me.

“Can I borrow your towel? My car just hit a water buffalo…”

I definitely didn’t watch this under ideal circumstances. I was fairly tired and watched with headphones by myself. A laughter-is-contagious group setting would probably bump this up.

Spoiler, I ended up not hating Jon Hamm in the new one, whoops.

One day I need to lock myself inside for a week and just watch all the 80s comedies that, given demographics, I’m probably assumed to have watched in my teens. I mean, I kind of don’t know how I didn’t, but I’ve never seen more than two Chase movies as far as I know yet I somehow watched multiple episodes of his late night show. I don’t think I’d seen an 80s Eddie Murphy movie till several months ago. Is it a 70s SNL thing? Did I just watch Stripes thirty years ago and say, “nope, this is not for me, give me Farrelly Bros and Adam Sandler vehicles instead?”

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