Does Jon Hamm Establish a new Take on the Classic Character, or Does the Ghost of Chevy Chase’s Fletch Still Loom Large?
DIRECTED BY GREG MOTTOLA/2022
After two successful film adaptations of his 11-novel series in the 1980’s, novelist Gregory McDonald’s quirky investigative reporter, Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher went silent. For 33 years we have waited with baited breath, while several reboot attempts amounted to nothing, for Fletch to make his triumphant return. Alas, it seemed as if Fletch was on a permanent vacation, charging everything to the Underhill’s credit card of course. Kevin Smith’s Son of Fletch and Fletch Won attempts faded away and the rumor mill of who would take over Chevy Chase’s iconic role included everyone from Ben Affleck, Zach Braff, and Jason Lee. Braff eventually dropped out due to him not believing he could truly nail the part, rightfully observing that “Whoever takes on the remake really has to nail it. (And even then, most people will hate it unless it’s Chevy Chase.)”. 33 years later, Superbad director Greg Mottola has finally cast his Fletch. Jon Hamm steps into the role, fresh off his success in Top Gun: Maverick. He has the charisma, the cockiness, smugness, and the charm of Irwin M. Fletcher, but with a reboot that is serious about sticking closer to the novels and not the comedy of the 1980’s films, would Hamm’s approach be enough to cause audiences to embrace his new version of Fletch, and forget about the Fletch that Chevy Chase created?
Ultimately, the answer to that question is a mixed bag. There is much to love in this modern Fletch film, but the ghost of Chase’s Fletch is ever present reminding you that so much that endeared the Fletch films of the 1980’s to audiences everywhere is much of what has been cut out in this version of the investigative reporter. Much of that was the personality and pratfalls of Chevy Chase, especially when he would put on the outrages disguises. In Confess, Fletch, that former version of Irwin M. Fletcher is retired. Its a shame too, because if this new reboot didn’t take itself so seriously, there is much to love in Hamm’s version of the titular character.
Like the two previous films, the central mystery of Confess, Fletch is centered around a murder. Instead of being asked to commit the murder like in Fletch (1985), here Irwin M. Fletcher is being made to look like the murderer as he was in Fletch Lives (1989), the vastly inferior sequel. Confess, Fletch is a lot more plot heavy than the previous two films, and could really stand to loosen up a bit in its approach to the situational comedy as the cast is fantastic and certainly capable. Joining Jon Hamm in this new mystery is Marcia Gay Harden, Kyle MacLachlan, Lorenzo Izzo, Roy Wood Jr., Ayden Mayeri, Annie Mumolo, and fellow Mad Men alum, John Slattery.
Where Confess, Fletch succeeds is when it allows Hamm to “hamm” it up a bit. In the trailer we see him trip on a boat while dropping a gun. Just that simple moment, in the context of the scene, was very reminiscent of the Fletch we love. We needed more of that. It didn’t have to be what Chevy would have done, but Hamm’s Fletch is so ambivalent towards the situations and characters around him in most scenes, it seems he is bored with it all even in light of the chaos swirling around him. Despite being wanted for murder, he must also purse an art thief that may uncover the mystery of whether his girlfriend’s father is dead, and whether her step-mother is responsible.
Sometimes, I forgot I was watching a Fletch film and instead could only see an older Don Draper, with a dad bod, who kept wanting to take off his socks and shoes wherever he went. This was especially solidified when he has lunch with his former newspaper editor Frank, who is played by Slattery, which reinforced the Mad Men vibe that seemed ever present. Hamm is still able to mostly play this off, incredibly, and make it work for a new version of this classic character, which is a testament to his abilities.
Most of the best comedic bits of this film come from the side characters like Mumolo’s character Eve, the crazy neighbor; MacLachlan’s Horan, the art professor; or Mayeri’s rookie cop, Griz. Roy Wood Jr.’s Detective Monroe seems to have the best lines, though, and its his character that truly brings out the best version of Hamm’s Fletch. He and Hamm have very good chemistry and timing in their scenes together, and this is where Hamm truly shines in the role. When interacting with Det. Monroe, Fletch is more playful, like the way his love for the Lakers is used to undermine Monroe’s love of the Celtics, which makes Monroe want to arrest Fletch for murder even more. Its also seen in his ability to tease Monroe, who is a new father, about his lack of sleep and the slow approach he takes in solving cases. Their chemistry also sets up Mayeri’s rookie detective, Griz, to be much funnier in her delivery as she plays against Hamm’s endearing smugness aimed at Det. Monroe and gives some attitude right back.
The problem is that these scenes I just described, between those characters, works so well when they are allowed to shine. When we are jolted back to scenes that feel way too serious and self-serious, we are just hoping that we can get back to the scenes that are more fun and playful. Yes, this film has aspects of a murder mystery and heist film, and there has to be some character building and plot development, so we expect there to be scenes of some seriousness, but can’t it stay playful too? The Chevy Chase films had a lot of over-the-top comedy (especially Fletch Lives) with gags built for laughs, but they were able to still tell a serious mystery at its core while having fun. Confess, Fletch seems more committed to being a grounded, straight-forward murder mystery/heist film while occasionally dabbling in the world of comedy. I say that should another Fletch film be made, that Hamm will find himself able to let his character show more of the playful and comedic side he is capable of, and that he was allowed to do sparingly in this film. Whoever is the director of any future sequels will hopefully allow “fun” to stay at the center of it all, even if it is a more grounded and rooted sort of playfulness.
At the end of the day, Confess, Fletch is trying to be all things to all people. It is such a mixed bag of a film. One one hand, it is trying to relaunch a film franchise of an iconic character (from the first two films and Gregory McDonald’s novels), while creating something new and original at the same time. It has some of the classic comedy approaches that the original films had, and yet it has some approaches that will allow it to be seen as new and original. I think even Paramount doesn’t know what to do with it since it has given Confess, Fletch a mixed theatrical and VOD release schedule. With so many failed attempts to reboot this comedy franchise over the past 33 years, you’d think that the studio and director would want to come out of the gate strong and make a fun movie that would have audiences cheering for more. Instead, they came out of the gate at a casual pace, occasionally dipping their toes into the metaphorical pool of fun and endearing characters and dialogue.
I confess that on the whole I liked Confess, Fletch enough, but there is still a lot to be desired. Hardly a passionate defense, but more of a wait-and-see approach to any potential sequels. Hamm is talented enough and capable enough to grow into this character and make it his own, but he’ll need a director who provides a more focused vision on what a modern take on Fletch should look like and how to balance that through the pacing, dialogue, and consistency of the characters. If so, then they would be able to execute that vision in a way that still takes the story seriously, while making the whole film feel like a long lost friend has finally come home. We miss our friend Fletch and are eager to embrace him, but Confess, Fletch may be too much of a lukewarm/mixed approach to fully reintroduce him to the public at large. So come back again to the screen in a couple of years, if you’d like Mr. Fletcher, as we’d still be open to more mysteries and fun. Or, you could go back to the beach for another 33 years. Just make sure if you do that you continue to charge it to the Underhills.
And like Fletch might say, “There you have it.”.