I.M. “Fletch” Fletcher is an investigative journalist as impish as he is intrepid. Created by author Gregory Mcdonald, Fletch was famously portrayed by Chevy Chase in the 1985 hit Fletch (which remains the finest match of Chase’s exorbitant ego to his extemporaneous energy) and 1989’s Fletch Lives (which remains … a sequel to Fletch).
Since then, studios have often sought to resurrect Mcdonald’s raffish rogue with a fresh face. Remember when Jason Lee or Zach Braff were bankable? Yeah, it’s been a while. More than three decades later, and with hardly any fanfare at all, comes Confess, Fletch, which gets a limited theatrical and premium VOD release Friday ahead of an October 28 Showtime premiere.
Superbad director Greg Mottola (who also adapts McDonald’s novel of the same name alongside Zev Borow) reimagines Fletch as a ruggedly handsome rapscallion in the digital age. Gone is the original film’s wordy whirlwind, clod-comedy shtick, daffy disguises and most of the goofy noms de plume, along with the Beverly Hills Cop-lite action beats; outside of a few rideshare rope-a-dopes, modest explosives and judicious climactic gunplay, Confess, Fletch opts for a steady pulse of sedation. It’s a marijuana-mellow manifestation of Fletch, with an aesthetic easily mistaken for mid-2000s Miramax were it not for all the modern automobiles.
And as Fletch? Jon Hamm, a fan of Mcdonald’s book series whom Mottola says approached him with the idea to make Confess, Fletch. Those who mainly know Hamm from Mad Men or Top Gun: Maverick may marvel at a seemingly surefire mismatch of man to material. Those who’ve seen Hamm cut very loose in Bridesmaids (or on his Emmy-courting turns on 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) will understand why he was interested. Hamm certainly leans into the bemusement of this casting, which feels both like an unexpected gamble and a perfect bet. It’s a gas to see him trust his gut (which also pokes just so against the casual Oxfords worn by a Fletch content to let himself go a bit) and finally roam at freewheeling feature length. With a “why not” mentality, Hamm whips up his own mother sauce of mischief — a béchamel of bullshit — for a movie that piles big laughs on a small plate.
Having long ago left his investigative beat, Fletch is now a freelance art writer whose in-flight magazine paydays prop up his layabout lifestyle. (There’s a long-tail payoff to a quip about how the digital era has cheapened his profession, but it’s a sly illustration both of Fletch’s laziness and how interrogation truly is less of an art form as we volunteer so much on our own.) Fletch’s work catches the attention of an Italian count, who calls on Fletch’s days as an investigative reporter “of some repute” for help with tracking some stolen paintings.
When the trail takes Fletch to Boston (where he revels in the particularly antagonizing accent of his Lakers cap), he arrives at his lodgings to find a dead woman on the floor. The nonchalance with which Fletch reports this homicide triggers the detectives investigating it, and as increasingly incriminating evidence pins him as the prime suspect, Confess, Fletch brings together a fun froth of thievery, betrayal, danger and colorful characters.
Confess, Fletch is smart about letting a fair amount of those folks fluster its titular firebrand. Annie Mumolo of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar plays a nosy neighbor who has somehow not died in her kitchen despite best (unintentional) efforts to poison, burn or stab herself. Comedienne Lucy Punch portrays Tatiana Tasserley, a proxy for Gwyneth Paltrow in Goop mode whose contempt for the less fortunate puts Fletch back on his heels a bit. Then there’s the count’s amorous wife, Countess Sylvia De Grassi, whom Marcia Gay Harden endows with a bit of charged Charo energy. It’s also fun to watch Hamm trade barbs with Mad Men co-star John Slattery again, ostensibly playing Fletch’s cantankerous former editor but essentially embodying Roger Sterling in modern times.
“No amateur sleuthing, please,” says Inspector Morris Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr., who also establishes an effective double-act with Ayden Mayeri as his partner, Griz). Part of the pleasure of this Fletch is how much Mottola and Borow emphasize the amateur; when Monroe accuses Fletch of not really solving anything, he’s not entirely wrong. So far removed from his heyday, this Fletch is more flip-flops than shoe leather, sometimes literally as he stumps for shoelessness (“Our hands are naked all day long and no one thinks twice!”). It reflects a cool-breeze command of comedy on which a mid-’80s Fletch simply could not coast without a few action scenes to goose things along. If Confess, Fletch resembles any Chase film, it’s the slobs-versus-snobs drive of Caddyshack, pitting Fletch’s powers of observation (such as they are) against art-snob obliviousness. The film’s grin is shit-eating and rich-eating, with a payoff similarly locked into both notions.
It’s hard to imagine Confess, Fletch making any sort of ripple that would make this resurrection anything more than a one-off. But it’s nice to see Hamm parade around with a proper amount of pool-pissing panache. Whether he gets to do another one, or someone else who’s currently in high school drops into the role somewhere around 2055 … well, that seems fine for Fletch.