Hey, did you hear about the new Fletch movie? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
Confess, Fletch, with Jon Hamm taking over as the titular character made famous by Chevy Chase, showed up in a limited number of theaters over the weekend. Now that you know it exists, you can catch it on pay-per-view--already--before it tip-toes over to Showtime next month. Not that it matters, apparently, but Confess, Fletch is pretty good!
It’s the final chapter in a Herculean, decades-long effort to reboot the Fletch franchise. What took Hollywood so long -- and why, after all that effort, is Confess, Fletch being released so quietly now? Here’s our history of the comedy character that stars from Ben Affleck to Ryan Reynolds wanted to play but never got the chance.
Chevy: I Wrote Fletch
The character of Irwin Maurice Fletcher intrigued Hollywood from the start. Created by journalist Gregory McDonald and the star of several best-selling books, Fletch was a professional smartass -- part journalist, part private investigator, part guy-avoiding-his-ex-wives. But even getting the original Fletch into movie theaters was full of false starts.
Over a ten-year period, “everybody in the world who acts and is a male between the ages of 17 and 76 tried to get the role,” said writer McDonald in 1985. Even Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger was angling for the role. “I admire Mick Jagger, but he is not my idea of a young American male,” the author confessed. Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin also circled the part, but the project continued to stall.
Enter Chevy Chase, his career tepid between the successes of Saturday Night Live and Caddyshack and box-office turds like Oh Heavenly Dog. Director Michael Ritchie gave Chevy Chase free rein to improvise his ass off in Fletch, for better or worse. "I love props, like wigs and buck-teeth and glasses,” he told The Times, and boy, you can sure tell from watching Fletch.
After the film became a modest hit, at least relative to his recent flops like Modern Problems and Under the Rainbow, Chase let some of that improvising go to his head. “(Screenwriter) Andrew Bergman didn’t write Fletch. I wrote Fletch,” he said. (Years later, he also took credit for directing it.)
But fans of the books complained that whatever Chase was doing wasn’t their Fletch. Even admirers of the movie like author Neil Gaiman noted that Chase’s character didn’t really resemble the character on the page.
That didn’t stop the movie from resonating with a certain kind of American guy who never passed up the chance to give Fletch another spin on late-night cable. An Onion headline tells you all you need to know about its appeal:
The Curse of Fletch
With a built-in fan base, a revitalized star in Chase, and an entire series of best-sellers to draw from, Fletch should have been the comedy James Bond, a never-ending run of popular movies with a sturdy lead character to anchor the franchise.
But 1989’s Fletch Lives ruined the fun for everyone. Bergman wrote a sequel based on McDonald’s Fletch and the Man Who, but the movie studio, in typical studio ignorance, threw it out in favor of another script not based on a Fletch novel at all. Fletch Lives was a dismal follow-up, essentially killing the franchise for decades. Who knows how much of the sequel he improvised, but The Los Angeles Times wasn’t charmed by Chase's performance: “You just want to smack him.”
Fast forward ten years and young comedy stars were chomping at the bit to restart Fletch. Kevin Smith had an idea to reboot with Jason Lee as a younger version of the character, with Chase back to play Fletch as a mentor.
The two met for lunch, at which “Chevy went on to claim he invented every funny thing that ever happened in the history of not just comedy, but also the known world,” remembers Smith. Due to Smith’s involvement with the complicated Dogma, his work on Son of Fletch stalled, earning Chase’s wrath: “(Smith) can shove it up his hole.” Understandably, Kevin moved on.
More attempts to jumpstart Fletch have been floundering on the beach for years. Entertainment Weekly called it “the Curse of Fletch,” reporting in 2010 that at least four different studios had tried to get a reboot off the ground, with Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Jason Lee, Zach Braff, and Joshua Jackson all considered for the part. Someone suggested Dave Chappelle. A gender-switched version with Ellen DeGeneres never got off the ground.
More recently, Warner Brothers greenlit Fletch Won, yet another reboot that would have starred Jason Sudeikis when he was hot off of We’re The Millers and Horrible Bosses. Sudeikis’s version “would be closer to what was coming out of (McDonald’s novels) in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Someone who’s in search for the truth. He’s just a vessel for that search and hopefully some fun jokes that work on a couple levels if we do our job right.” Sudeikis planned to ditch Chase’s goofball disguises in favor of something more clever. “We tell the stories a little bit different.”
But Warner Brothers turned the project over to Relativity Media, which a few months later filed for bankruptcy. While Fletch Won wasn’t technically dead, Sudeikis moved on to other projects like Ted Lasso and the curse of Fletch lived on.
None of That Stuff Is In the Books
Until now! Jon Hamm and Superbad director Greg Mottola have finally brought Confess, Fletch into the world. Hamm was a longtime fan of the books and, like Sudeikis, anxious to deliver a more faithful version to the screen. “I was amazed by how different the books are from the ('80s movies),” he says. “I was like, 'Wait, so that’s what Chevy Chase brings to it'... and that’s awesome, but none of that stuff is in the books.”
It just so happens that Confess, Fletch is pretty great, a comedy neo-noir more akin to Clooney’s Oceans 11 movies than National Lampoon’s Vacation. More importantly, it’s finally a comedy vehicle that makes sense for Hamm -- a retired, charming AF investigative journalist who bullshits his way in and out of convoluted cons. Some quality screen time at the bar with old Mad Men drinking buddy John Slattery as a crusty newspaper editor makes us long for more.
Confess, Fletch is getting mostly good reviews and Hollywood is aching for a comedy hit. Nerdist’s Michael Walsh, among others, complains that the movie is “too much fun for a limited theatrical release.” It all raises the question: Why the startling lack of promotion? Why sneak it in and out of theaters?
Is it the Curse of Fletch? Or does it have more to do with the finances of the radically restructured Miramax, which produced the film before announcing in July that it was shuffling off the distribution rights to Paramount?
Maybe Paramount should have learned something from Hamm’s other big 2022 release, Top Gun: Maverick. OK, OK, that’s a Tom Cruise movie but bear with us. The Top Gun sequel is not only a hit but an all-timer, closing in on $1.5 billion worldwide Couple that number up with Elvis, the Baz Lurhman hit from earlier this summer that’s at $284 million and counting. Reese Witherspoon’s heavily promoted Where the Crawdads Sing was another unexpected summer hit. The lesson? There’s still an audience for movies that aren’t Minions or Marvel -- if you market grown-up movies, grown-ups still want to spend their money on them.
But you have to let the audience know movies like Confess, Fletch exist. Fletch -- and Jon Hamm -- deserve better.
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Top image: Miramax