Fletch (1985) – A Review


A review of the 1985 comedy/mystery Fletch, starring Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Joe Don Baker, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Geena Davis and Richard Libertini, one of the best roles and films Chase has done

Irwin M. Fletcher (Chevy Chase) is a reporter who is undercover investigating a story about drug trafficking on beaches in Los Angeles. ‘Fletch’, who he is more commonly called, has blended in so well as a homeless junkie, he is approached by millionaire Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson) with a very strange offer. Stanwyk will pay this anonymous vagrant $50,000 if he is willing to kill him.

Stanwyk claims he’s dying of cancer and if he were to be murdered it will avoid him suffering. Murder will also pay his family from a life insurance policy. Having a drifter to do the deed would work out well for everyone. Suspecting there’s more than what he’s being told, Fletch accepts the deal and proceeds to investigate Stanwyk and find out the truth of what exactly is going on.

I should mention, Fletch isn’t just an ordinary reporter. He will attempt to get the answers he wants with some very bizarre approaches. They involve using disguises, fake names and a very freewheeling attitude.

Meanwhile, Fletch’s investigation into the drugs on the beach, nosing around and trying to figure out who’s the drug supplier and making a big story out of it all doesn’t sit too well with Police Chief Karlin (Joe Don Baker). He threatens Fletch to lay off and leave it the police. Of course Fletch doesn’t scare too easy, even when he’s chased by the police and they’re willing to frame him and even possibly kill him!

Through all his probing, Fletch soon starts to suspect there’s a much bigger puzzle to make of all this. Somehow the pieces involve Stanwyk, Karlin, the police and the drugs on the beaches all might be connected in someway, he just has to figure out how all the pieces fit together.

Fletch-1985-Chevy-Chase-Gregory-Mcdonald-character“It’s all ball bearings nowadays”, “Can I borrow your towel for a sec? My car just hit a water buffalo.”, ‘Mooooon River’, “Cujo?”, “I’m with the Mattress Police.”, ‘Babar’, “Stangers in the night, exchanging clothing….”, “You ever see a spleen that large?” “Nugent. Ted Nugent.”, “I’ll have a steak sandwich, a bloody mary and a steak sandwich please.”, “Excuse you?”, “He is actually six-five, with the afro, six-nine.”‘I hate Tommy LaSorda.”, “Look, defenseless babies!” “Do you have the Beatles White album?”, “I’m a shepard.”, “Thank God, the….police.”

In 1985, Chevy Chase was one of the most popular stars around. From his patented pratfalls and wise ass news introduction of “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not” on Saturday Nigh Live, Chase’s snarky, klutzy persona was welcomed into living rooms. His career skyrocketed. He would leave SNL and it didn’t take long for him to be starring in big-screen comedies.

Chase’s film career is certainly a very interesting one. He would have extreme highs and major lows. His first major starring role, alongside Goldie Hawn in 1978’s Foul Play was a hit. A supporting part in the hit comedy Caddyshack would result in becoming a fan favorite and be endlessly quoted from. And of course his role as the hapless family man Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation, would be a huge hit and be a role he would return to in subsequent sequels.

Chevy-Chase-Fletch-1985-Moon-River-doctor-sceneDuring this period, Chase would also make quite a few movies that didn’t leave much of an impact on audiences and were quickly forgotten, OR at worst would be notorious stinkers (Oh Heavenly Dog, Under the Rainbow, Modern Problems, Deal of the Century). Despite not having the best batting average when it came to his films, Chase remained well liked and maintained his popularity with audiences.

Audiences were waiting to see a quintessential Chase role that suited his persona. And finally he got it by playing investigative journalist Irwin M. Fletcher, better known as Fletch.

Fletch-1985-comedy-mystery-Chevy-ChaseCreated by Gregory Mcdonald in his 1974 mystery novel ‘Fletch’, Mcdonald would write a series of popular mystery stories with the irreverent investigative reporter. There would be sequels and prequels and the novels would amass a huge fan base.

A film adaptation of the character was being kicked around since the mid-70s. There had been many candidates and suggestions of actors who should play Mcdonald’s unorthodox journalist Irwin Maurice Fletcher, but the film never came together. 

That is until 1985 when director Michael Ritchie and Chase teamed to make Fletch. Based on Mcdonald’s first Fletch novel, with a screenplay by Andrew Bergman and Phil Alden Robinson, the film is pretty much a straight adaption of the book. But they did leave enough wiggle room for Chase to improv and add his comedic flourishes in the movie for good measure.

Chevy-Chase-Dana-Wheeler-Nicholson-Fletch-1985It ends up a prefect mix. Fletch is a mystery, a thriller and a comedy with some dashes of action. Fletch ended up being a box office hit, it gave Chase one of his best roles, is regarded as one of his best films, and still decades later, fans still quote lines and jokes from it.

Chase himself has said Fletch is his favorite film he made, because it gave him the “opportunity to be himself.”

Even Mcdonald was pleased with how the film came out and Chase’s performance. Saying, he felt Ritchie and Chase, “did a good job with it.”

So, after getting this loopy proposition from Stanwyk, Fletch begins doing some digging to find out more about him. This leads him to a variety of places and people to get information from. He pays visits to Stanwyk’s doctor, goes to his ritzy tennis club, talks with the mechanics who work on his private jet, pays a visit to his parents in Utah. Fletch gets around quite a bit! 

Through each encounter, Fletch manages to accumulate crumbs of info about Stanwyk that points him to another lead. It’s a classic mystery onion where layers get peeled away and if Fletch manages to keep chopping away he’ll get to the hidden truth at the center.

Fletch-1985-Chevy-Chase-comedy-mystery-disguiseFletch doesn’t go about this investigating in a traditional way by just saying he’s a reporter, asking questions then getting answers. He has to play a variety of roles and use a lot of colorful pseudonyms to gain access to these people and get them talking. Chase’s disguises and alias are vital to the fun of Fletch. This aspect was even featured prominently on the film poster.

Fletch pulls out outrageous names, dons different costumes and outfits, BS’s his way past nurses and waiters. He’s always the smartest guy in the room, as he sleuths his way around the heads of everyone with his dry sarcastic lines. They’re all fun characters and Chase is clearly enjoying himself. Each persona Chase dons become signature comedic moments throughout the film.

Fletch-1985-Chevy-Chase-Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar-Lakers-dream-sequenceAt a certain point I think the film takes the idea of Chase in costume a bit too far. There is a dream sequence where Fletch imagines he’s playing for his beloved Los Angeles Lakers. It’s an odd random bit of business, and has never been my favorite bit.

It’s brief, but slows the story down and doesn’t provide anything other than seeing Chase doing more of his comedy schtick and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar making a cameo in the film.

Supposedly, there was another dream sequence filmed for Fletch, where he plays for the L.A. Dodgers and gets to confront LaSorda. It’s probably better that was dropped. I don’t think the film needed any dream excursions and was better off just sticking with Fletch working on solving the mystery. 

Fletch needs a leading lady and it comes in the form of Stanwyk’s wife, played by the lovely Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. It’s no surprise Fletch starts to become enamored of her. As it becomes clear that Stanwyk isn’t the nice, charitable man she believes he was, she runs into the arms of the more than willing to catch her Fletch. 

Chase is cool, funny, charming and is the wittiest guy in the room. This is the Chase everyone loved to see. The film is so full of Chase’s one-liners, quips and jokes it could have gotten very tiresome and become a gag reel for him to showoff. But the comedy pieces and disguises ride along with story, which remains intriguing and Fletch slowly gets closer to the answer to the mystery. The overall story is never lost sight of and the comedy never eclipse’s Fletch’s main goal. It’s just his own oddball, unique approach of getting to the answers.

The film takes time for more dramatic and suspenseful moments. Fletch remains jesting and spouting one-liners, but we still feel tension mounting in particular scenes.

Chevy-Chase-Joe-Don-Baker-Fletch-1985The scene of Karlin confronting Fletch and threatening to shoot him is a suspenseful moment. Baker is no stranger to playing a heavy and here he’s very intimidating and looks quite serious that he’s about to shoot Fletch in a jail cell. Even with Fletch cracking wise, it genuinely looks like a dire situation he’s in.

Same as when he’s being attacked by a doberman or being confronted by a homeowner with a shotgun. That scene is shot in a dimly lit, scary way and the actor appears quite serious not the least bit amused by Fletch’s flimsy excuses of why he’s in the house. All the jokes don’t nullify the fact that Fletch is vulnerable and could get hurt. It’s a very good balancing act.

In a lot of ways, I always thought Fletch was similar to the first Beverly Hills Cop. Both headline a comedy star who supply a lot of laughs throughout the films. Yet, both films never become outright comedies. There are tense scenes, suspenseful scenes, there are scary villains, both Fletch and Axel Foley have to solve a mystery and while doing so are put in danger multiple times and you believe it. Both films could easily had been straight thrillers had it not been for Chase and Murphy playing their quirky lead characters and getting to add their brand of comedy to the stories.

Richard-Libertini-Chevy-Chase-Geena-Davis-Fletch-1985-comedy-mysteryChase is surrounded by a very good supporting cast who are willing to lean back and let him do his thing. Richard Libertini plays his boss at the newspaper, who is growing more and more agitated as Fletch is making accusations against Karlin and following outlandish leads. Geena Davis, in her second film appearance, is his pretty buddy named Larry. She clearly thinks the world of him and is dazzled by his charming, relaxed attitude.

M. Emmet Walsh, George Wyner, Kenneth Mars, George Wendt, William Sanderson, Burton Gilliam and a cascade of character actors all pop in and out. It’s a collection of an eccentric band of characters who all are two steps behind as Chase throw witty jibes at them, gets the information he needs and leaves them in his dust before they have the chance to know what just happened. 

Fletch is the persona you want to see Chase play. The fastest guy in the room, wise-cracking, handsome, confident, playful, funny. He was great playing Clark Griswold, but no teen wanted to be that accident-prone family man! Fletch was the guy you hoped you could pull off acting like.

Chevy-Chase-Dana-Wheeler-Nicholson-Tim-Matheson-Fletch-1985Chase and Fletch fit so well together and was so successful, of course there was a sequel – 1989’s Fletch Lives. Ritchie was back to direct, but unfortunately it just didn’t work as well.

I always felt the sequel was a real letdown, especially since the first film worked so well. The balance of comedy and mystery got thrown off, the story was not compelling and the setting of the south didn’t provide much fun for the character to explore. It became a very tired series of disguises and unfunny bits. For whatever reason, they decided to do an original film story, rather than adapt another Mcdonald Fletch novel for the sequel.

Fletch-1985-movie-poster-Chevy-ChaseBased on the first film, it looked like Fletch could have become a successful film series starring Chase, but it ended with the sequel. While Fletch LIves’ box office was decent, it was not as well received as the original film. I figure the indifferent reaction cooled on making further Fletch adventures. That, plus Chase’s stardom beginning to dim, ended any chances of any further Fletch films with him.  

Fletch Lives was the last time we saw the character onscreen. There had been talk of rebooting the character for a very long. Countless rumors of some new ‘Fletch news’ would crop up every few years. Chase would return. Fletch would be recast. Kevin Smith was going to direct Jason Lee. The film is going to be ‘Fletch Won’. No, now it’s going to be ‘Son of Fletch’. Jason Sudeikis is going to star. 

It got awfully tiring to read all the rumors and talk. Finally, Mcdonald’s Fletch will return in 2022 with Jon Hamm taking the lead in Confess, Fletch. Like the original 1985 film, it is based on the Mcdonald novel. We’ll have to see how this new Fletch film incarnation will be received and if Hamm can make the part his own and make fans not think of Chase’s performance.

No doubt, fans will make comparisons to Chase’s performance, no matter what Hamm does. It just seems inevitable, but that’s little surprise since Chase made such an indelible impression with the role.

It does seem like an appropriate time for the eccentric investigating journalist to make a return. The mystery genre has enjoyed a reinvigorated popularity with films like Knives Out, Murder on the Orient Express, Spencer Confidential. Maybe it’s the perfect time for Fletch to comeback and solve some mysteries and crimes.

Chevy-Chase-Fletch-1985-comedy-mystery-memorable-quotesNo matter how Confess, Fletch is, Ritchie’s 1985 film remains a very entertaining movie. It’s funny, has an intriguing story and gave Chase one of the best roles to showcase his talents. Watching it today you can see why Chevy Chase was such a popular star and how the role of Fletch showcased his talents and skills. 

“Just charge it to the Underhills.”

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