Oh, sure it’s not the first time an actor has taken over a role in a film series (James Bond, anyone?), but there have been too many others where it just didn’t work (RoboCop, The Pink Panther, Hellboy, Fantastic Beasts, etc). Will this switcheroo work?
Based on Gregory McDonald’s 1976 novel, this reboot stars Jon Hamm as Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher, the cynical, dead-pan ex-investigative reporter who comes home one night to a dead body. Hmm. . . must be a Tuesday. Naturally, he’s a suspect by the police team of Inspector Detective Monroe (Ron Wood, Jr.) and his new trainee, Junior Detective Griz (Ayden Mayeri). As his shaky alibi checks out, we see that Fletch was in Rome, banging a lovely Italian girl named Angela (Lorenza Izzo). Seems her father may (or may not) have been kidnapped and is being held for ransom for a priceless Picasso painting.
Anyway, back in NYC, Fletch starts his investigation into stolen paintings, who might have killed his roommate, and the possible kidnapping of Angela’s daddy. All this while detectives Monroe & Griz are doggedly on his tail while Fletch constantly eludes them with Uber’s and rental cars. Navigating the sea of suspects, he talks to an eccentric germaphobe, Boston art dealer Mr. Horan (Kyle MacLachlan), a loopy designer named Tatiana (Lucy Punch), his very quirky next-door neighbor (Annie Mumolo), and Angela’s bizarre step-mother, the Countess (Marcia Gay Harden). Fletch even seeks help from Frank Jaffe (John Slattery), his old boss who now runs the Boston Herald newspaper.
After many leads drying up, going in the wrong direction, having a van painted by street artists (??), and other investigative endeavors, Fletch basically stumbles his way into finding out the truth, even though he had it all wrong to begin with. With a tepid screenplay by newbie Zev Borow (TV shows like Chuck and Forever) and director Greg Mottola (Adventureland), this is a weak, underplayed, and unsatisfying entry into the Fletch franchise. Just like the spectacular fails of the Pink Panther remakes with Steve Martin, nobody can touch the comedy stylings of Chevy Chase. If you’re a fan of the original movies (like me), you can’t help but draw comparisons, and if you’re new to this movie, you’re in for a major let-down.
The 80’s Fletch was a lovable, rascally rogue who got the job by doing the most outrageous things possible. This Fletch is a garden-variety detective you’d see on any one-hour TV detective show. Fletch has a very dry sense of humor, the story moves at a glacial pace with the crime itself being confusing and boring, and I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters at the end. Hamm is a terrific actor, given the right role (Tag, Baby Driver, Black Mirror S2,E4), but here he is listless and lost. It’s not a good sign when all the supporting players are more interesting than the principal!
Lorenza Izzo has great energy as the Italian spitfire girlfriend, Ayden Mayeri delivers hilarious comedy timing as the trainee, Annie Mumolo is a riot as the wacky, brainless neighbor, and John Slattery is always a joy to watch on screen. The entire cast is wonderful, except for Hamm who (I’m guessing here), felt a great responsibility and pressure to bring a known iconic character back, especially when the former actor left so indelible a mark. You can see why this 99-minute movie went straight to Amazon Prime and VOD and not the theaters. It’s obvious. Wait a few months when it comes to cable for free.
**Now streaming on Amazon Prime on other VOD streaming services
Fletch Lives (1989)
Based on Gregory McDonald’s popular novels, Chevy Chase owned this outrageous and quirky character from frame one with his SNL dead-pan comedic delivery, amazing charm, and a terrific script adaptation by Andrew Bergman (Oh God, You Devil, Blazing Saddles, The In-Laws).
The first movie, simply titled Fletch, deals with L.A. Times ace undercover crime reporter Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher (who writes under the pseudonym, Jane Doe) dealing with two things: dodging his wife’s tricky divorce lawyer and writing an article exposing drug trafficking on the beaches of Los Angeles. A master of disguise and a gift of gab, Fletch is trying to find out who is selling the drugs. But right in the middle of his investigation, he gets a big surprise. Fletch is approached by Boyd Aviation executive vice president Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), who claims to have bone cancer with only months left to live. Stanwyk offers $50K for Fletch to kill him, stage the scene as a burglary, then flee to Rio de Janeiro!
Yeah, it sounds fishy, all right. Through his extensive investigation, Fletch infiltrates Stanwyk’s private tennis club and hooks up with his wife, Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), not to mention stealing Mr. Underhill’s credit card! LOL! With more clues, searching around and disguises galore, Fletch gets arrested by crooked police chief Jerry Karlin (Joe Don Baker), who is in cahoots with Stanwyk. In a tense stand-off with Stanwyk and Karlin, Fletch nearly gets killed, but he solves the case. Yaay!
In the sequel, Fletch Lives, (this time written by Leon Capetanos) Fletch is contacted by the executor of his late aunt’s will, attorney Amanda Ray Ross (Patricia Kalember), that he’s inherited his aunt’s 80-acre plantation, Belle Isle, in Thibodaux, Louisana. Nice, huh? Only problem is, it’s a dilapidated, run-down mansion, cared for by Calculus Entropy (Cleavon Little). Anyway, Fletch goes into full investigator mode after Amanda is found dead in his bed and he’s the prime suspect!
And why are there sinister forces at work to get Fletch to either sell the land, get him to leave, or kill him? Who could be behind it? Maybe famous tele-evangelist Jimmy Lee Farnsworth (R. Lee Ermey) who wants to build a Disneyland-type ministry playground? Or could it be super-rich Confederate-lover & lawyer Hamilton “Ham” Johnson (Hal Holbrook)? Looks like dating Jimmy Lee’s cute daughter, Becky Culpepper (Julienne Phillips) might help, not to mention donning several disguises! Fletch finds out that caretaker Calculus is really an undercover FBI agent and together they solve the case, not to mention signing over his worthless, toxic-waste plantation to his ex-wife!
There was talk in 2000 of a third Fletch film (called Fletch Won) starring Chase and directed by Kevin Smith, but it never happened. All in all, these two films with the former SNL star made bank at the box office and cemented Chase as a megastar, even though he had several blockbuster movies under his belt already (National Lampoon’s Vacation, Caddyshack, Foul Play, and Seems Like Old Times).