CONFESS, FLETCH– 4 STARS
As soon as the name of Fletch is invoked, film fans (especially the older demographic who was there 3000 years ago) are going to immediately picture and revere Chevy Chase during his white-hot 1980s hey-day, and understandably so. His antics in two Fletch films are still the stuff of cult classic legend decades later. Nevertheless, this is Hollywood where remakes, reboots, and new interpretations are always allowed. Nearly 40 years after Chase, 50 years after the original novels, and a heap of developmental hell in between, it was high time for a little updated freshening thanks to Confess, Fletch.
Sure enough, the best way to revitalize a known character is to go back to its roots, namely Gregory Mcdonald’s book series that spanned 11 novels in 20 years from 1974-1994. Michael Ritche’s original 1985 film covered the first novel from pillar to post. Superbad and Adventureland writer-director Greg Mottola and his co-writer Zeb Borow (Chuck) latched onto the second, Confess, Fletch, modernized its setting, and ran with the nimble built-in twists and turns.
The semi-noteworthy freelance journalist and former investigative reporter Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher (Hamm) finds himself the prime suspect in an upper class Boston murder case. Clean as a whistle, Fletch is unsuccessfully grilled by the exhausted Inspector Morris Monroe (standup comedian Roy Wood, Jr.) and his peppy and green partner Griz (Ayden Mayeri of Spin Me Round). If anything, he’s putting them through their jocular paces.
LESSON #1: ALWAYS HAVE AN ANSWER– Right away, you relish the brilliance of Jon Hamm in this plum role that was attached to the likes of Jason Lee, Zach Braff, and Jason Sudeikis over the years. Tabbed by Mottola for his third picture in a row (after Clear History and Keeping Up With the Joneses), Hamm found a perfect landing place for his comedic skills. Someone can try and talk about shoe sizes to fill versus Chevy Chase only to forget that Jon is zero-percent slouch with this type of droll charisma. Plenty handsome and exuding the right level of slick affluence, Hamm has the sharp wit, quick comedic timing, and the ability to drop both with a straight face to be this notorious and hilarious laconic character.
The threads of this predicament cross over into Fletch’s own investigation of stolen Italian paintings he’s been tracking stateside for a story for his publisher boss (John Slattery) after a visit to Rome. Looking to clear his name, Fletch has to figure out who’s playing who among a bevy of close contacts and newfound acquaintances. The ensemble of Confess, Fletch relies on steady performers more than showy star power to embody both its comedy and its trickery.
LESSON #2: A GOOD MYSTERY MAKES ANYONE A SUSPECT– Right under his nose, Fletch has his vivacious Italian girlfriend Angela de Grassi (Knock Knock’s Lorenza Izzo) and her circle which includes her scene-stealing oddball neighbor Eve (Annie Mumolo of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) and the eccentric Countess, played by Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden. All three ladies are a hoot in their own way as foils against the roguish Fletch. Put them all together in a room and the feathers fly. Meanwhile, the missing art side of things appears to go through Kyle MacLachlan’s germophobic art dealer Horan, his associate The Commodore (TV veteran Kenneth Kimmins), and their respective cronies. Hijinks ensue as Fletch seeks to avoid becoming the second toe-tag in the morgue while hoping to pad his resume.
Led by the easy lensing of cinematographer Sam Levy (Lady Bird) and a velvety jazz-and-blues score from David Arnold (a long way from his old Bond movies and Roland Emmerich disaster films), the presentation of Confess, Fletch has a polished yet slight style that keeps the focus on the plot more than any manufactured spectacle. The costumes designed by Wendy Chuck (Spotlight) flatter the cast with little bits of personal panache befitting their eccentric characters. Across the board, nothing is too gaudy and nothing is bland either. This is a happy middle of decadence.
LESSON #3: STICK TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL– In many ways, by adapting one of the original books, Mottola and Borow avoided the mistake committed by 1989’s free-wheeling Fletch Lives! of throwing random skits and non-sticky jokes at a wall. That untethered approach would end a cushy star vehicle franchise after only two movies. If this creative team can stick to Mcdonald’s source work, there is more than enough rich mystery and cheeky humor to turn this character into a regular cinematic act for a decade or more.
That’s certainly a big wish nowadays. So much of Confess, Fletch feels like a wiser-than the norm throwback against the hefty audience quadrant that will always prefer the louder, action-ified punch of the James Bonds and Jason Bournes of the world over a journalist gumshoe. If that crowd can slow down for a smaller and smoother ride, they will find mental thrills equally clever to the pop of blockbuster stunts that fade as quickly as they explode.
Occupying the other side of the coin, there is a place for easy-and-breezy intrigue like Confess, Fletch on screens bigger than a TV miniseries. However, in this marketplace, there’s no shame in settling for On Demand success. If they can muster it, Motolla and Hamm have a rich bookshelf of affordable comic gold at their fingertips. Confess, Fletch samples that shimmer nicely. Hopefully, this creative team, unlike those that failed before them, can earn additional opportunities to collaborate again and crack more cases.