Fletch (1985)

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Fletch. Until last week, he was just another mild-mannered reporter fighting for truth, justice and a window office. Now he’s being threatened, shot at, accused and arrested. And that’s by the people he’s trying to help. But there’s still one thing even more dangerous than his work. His love life.

F letch is a film that yours truly has perhaps seen more than any other. And even though it may be five years since my last viewing, it is still my favorite. It isn’t the best made, surely isn’t the best acting or plotline, but when taken together it is simply a masterpiece.

Starring SNL alum Chevy Chase, Fletch unfortunately probably marks the zenith of Chase’s Hollywood career. Joining him in the cast are Tim Matheson, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and a slew of character actors. Also on the case are Joe Don Baker, Geena Davis, and George Wendt in small but significant roles.

One wonders how much of what is on screen was scripted, as lore suggests that much of Chevy’s dialogue is ad-libbed. He is in almost every scene and this film is his showcase. One gets wistful when one wonders what could have been if Chevy could have maintained this level of performance.

Chase plays erstwhile newsman Irwin M. Fletcher who in his spare time dreams of being a Los Angeles Laker and going undercover to investigate the darker side of Los Angeles. Fletch is a really masterful play on the book of the same name by Gregory McDonald. The book became the start of a fairly long series of themed mysteries.

Although I won’t go to much into the plot, the basics are Fletch is investigating drug trafficking on the beaches while simultaneously being approached by a wealthy oil magnate (Tim Matheson) who is terminally ill and requests that Fletch kill him in order to secure life insurance monies for Matheson’s bereaved family. Along the line the two storylines mesh and become intertwined, but we will leave it at that.

Even though the lines are not new, quips like “You using the whole fist Doc?,” “I assure you, it’s nothing of a sexual nature,” among others, still get a good chuckle. It is truly the Big Lebowski of the 80s.  Chase’s constant personality and costume (read: disguise) changes throughout are funny and creative too.

We get a strong and quirky score from Harold Faltermeyer who also worked on Beverly Hills Cop. The oddball theme and the title song by Stephanie Mills (“Bit by Bit”) are both perfect fits and at the same time fragments which date the film just a bit. Both however, are indispensable.

Fletch is out on both DVD and bluray, but neither feature commentary by Chevy Chase which for this film is a required staple. The current “Jane Doe Edition” (on standard DVD and bluray) makes an attempt at mocking this by following up on the cast and what they are doing today. Chevy isn’t included (presumably due to money issues) but a thread is woven throughout of “looking” for him. Nice attempt but just draws even more attention to Chevy’s absence.

Chase didn’t maintain the peak of Fletch for long. A sequel, Fletch Lives, was made after and is tolerable, but merely a shadow of the original. With the original Vacation film this is a must have for any collector, even without Chase’s involvement in the supplementary materials. Even for a true fan the next best Chase film is a big step down.

Too bad the follow up to this was so weak because the original had much to build on. Even after countless viewings there are new subtle jokes and humorous moments which whether forgotten or not make Fletch enjoyable on every watching.

Rumors persist about a new Fletch movie (most likely a prequel) coming down the road, but it seems unlikely and definitely will not include Chevy. Director Michael Ritchie has passed away and without his force and Chevy’s ability to make the character his own a sequel or remake seems like a bad idea. (In any case, Chase is now too old for the part.)

But again, in this era of recycled ideas Fletch:2010 may be right around the corner. I would go see it, but I would charge it to Mr. Underhill’s American Express Card…..want the number?

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