- Directed by Michael Ritchie
- May 31, 1985
- Based on Gregory McDonald’s Fletch novels
A newspaper reporter investigating a drug ring uncovers a much larger conspiracy.
The more I think about it the more I come to realize Fletch is one of those movies whose parts are weak yet when put together form a memorable and very good whole. There is plenty wrong or underused in the end product yet it somehow manages to be good. Look at things individually and you will see the flaws easily. Look at it as a whole and you will be saying “I like this.”
Perhaps that perception is in large part due to Chevy Chase starring as the titular character. He was at the top of his game in the 80s and could work magic then. Whether or not this movie is book accurate I don’t know but what we get here is very much the type of Chevy Chase persona found in so many other films: a charming asshole.
One thing about Fletch is that it is known for goofy disguises. That’s the impression it leaves in the mind, but truth be told the goofy disguises aren’t that goofy nor that numerous during the run of the story. It’s nothing too extreme other than the roller-skating dude he dons in the finale. That’s probably the most extreme change with the others being fairly minor alterations to dress or physical appearance. He just changes his clothes and puts on a ridiculous con job. It is not even one of those con jobs that the viewer finds believable by the end.
And that is just one of many things that are introduced that fall short. Another is that Fletch has an ex-wife. This is revealed when he uses the $1000 initial offer from the millionaire to cover back alimony when his ex-wife’s lawyer shows up. Mentioning an ex-wife is one thing to give the character some background but to have a whole scene where Fletch interacts with the lawyer implies something more. It’s just dropped in and then goes away. Her existence has nothing to do with the story and is just an entertaining bit that was ultimately unimportant.
Fletch has a Girl Friday called Larry (Geena Davis) who looks to be a close friend and confidant in her few moments on the screen but whose purpose ultimately is to shorten the runtime of the film by doing research offscreen to get information for Fletch that would ruin the flow if he suddenly had it. If he suddenly went from one scene not knowing something and in the next was well informed it would have made no sense. Larry avoids all that.
There’s a brief running gag with a couple called the Underhills at a country club where Fletch when he sneaks onto the grounds charges things to their club account. What could’ve been an entertaining running gag gets dropped from the film as he doesn’t have to go to the country club anymore. Once it would’ve been an entertaining moment but when it got used again and then dropped it became pointless. This is a comedy and they could have showed up anywhere and got screwed by him. They just felt important, then they were gone.
Fletch is a fan of the LA Lakers which culminates in a mid-film dream sequence where he is playing for the Lakers along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I’m not even sure why that was included as it did nothing for the movie. It was funny but just stretches out the story. Was this story running short and this is how they did it? Does that explain some of the other stuff?
This is a genuine mystery and it’s kicked off with a rather odd request a wealthy man named Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson). Claiming he is dying of cancer he asks Fletch, whom he believes to be a homeless drifter as he is encounter by Stanwyk while investigating a drug ring, to kill him. What follows is a mystery that Fletch must solve and figure out why this man made such a request of him.
Fletch follows twists and turns and one clue one after another and honestly some of it doesn’t make sense. When it finally is all put together the answer is pretty standard for the 80s. It’s nothing as unique as the plot behind Trading Places for example. Drug rings were everywhere in cinema in the 80s. Even James Bond dealt with one!
There is a pretty interesting cast in this movie. Aside from Chevy Chase and the criminally underused Geena Davis, we have Joe Don Baker as the corrupt Chief Jerry Karlin, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as Fletch’s love interest and Alan’s wife Gail Stanwyk, Richard Libertini as Fletch’s boss Frank, noted character actor M. Emmet Walsh as Dr. Dolan, George Wendt as dealer Fat Sam, and the great Kenneth Mars as Stanton Boyd. Great cast for the era.
I wouldn’t call this film hilarious, but it is silly fun. With a few minor differences here and there this would have been a pretty straightforward and rather run of the mill film that probably would’ve been dumped on TV rather getting a theatrical release. What makes this work is Chevy Chase’s jokes and the unusual execution of the situation. Separately the pieces are weak. Together they make something very memorable. The individual parts overcome their weakness to become great.
In the end Fletch is very much an example of its time. What makes it rise above is Chevy Chase himself. He infuses the material with something only he has and that makes it rather enjoyable. I won’t recommend this one but if you happen to find yourself with a chance to watch it give it a look.