Friday, July 17, 2015


There never was a better showcase for Chevy Chase's detached, deadpan shtick than 1985's FLETCH.  In a career littered with far more misfires than successes, Chase more or less played the same indifferent smartass each time.  Many comedians (and actors, for that matter) are stuck in a certain recognizable persona with which they willfully exploit no matter what the script gives them to do.  Chase dined out on the same trademarked mannerisms so many times you wonder how he would've played Willy Loman had he been given the chance.

FLETCH is based on a '70s mystery novel by Gregory MacDonald and has maybe a similar tone but otherwise is far astray.  Chase interprets the character of L.A Times reporter Irwin Fletcher as a tired, sardonic, quick witted slacker who's behind on his alimony and his deadlines.  A big story involving drug trafficking on the beach, with a possible tie to corrupt cops, is brewing and Fletch has spent weeks trying to assimilate with a group of derelicts to get the inside info.  This and many other plot developments allow Chase to don an array of disguises.  Sometimes fake teeth, nerdy hornrims, or an afro.  He uses so many aliases throughout the film one almost requires a scorecard.

Fletch is also approached by a wealthy man named Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson) who offers him $50,000 to kill him.  Stanwyk alleges that he has bone cancer and would rather not be around once things deteriorate.  He also wants to ensure that his wife receives the benefit of his life insurance policy.  A carefully detailed plan is explained.  Fletch, skeptical as ever, agrees to the offer but naturally begins an investigation.  Some troubling discoveries are made in between rectal exams and narrow escapes from attack dogs.  Is there a connection between Stanwyk and the activities on the beach?

Andrew Bergman's screenplay maintains interest with the central plotline.  The mystery is actually fairly engrossing.  I wonder how a more faithful adaptation - without the near non-stop wisecracks- would've played.  It would've been a different movie.  As is, it's a showcase for its star.  And a damn good one if I do say so my damn self.  Chase is actually a good fit here.  What should've been an unfortunate collision instead becomes a Star Vehicle that actually doesn't warm the back of my neck.

Director Michael Ritchie guides the moody celebrity quite well through all manner of genre business, including the inevitable car chase.  I prefer the quieter scenes, ones observant of behavior, as when Fletch travels to Utah to visit Stanwyk's parents. It's like something out of an Ansel Adams painting with dialogue penned by Will Rogers or Garrison Keillor. The dead on Americana commentary in this scene is reminiscent of Ricthie's films in the '70s like SMILE, THE BAD NEWS BEARS, and THE CANDIDATE.

I suppose you can enjoy FLETCH without being a fan of Chase, but it really helps if you enjoy his smugness, his sarcasm.  Much of the movie's dialogue has a permanent fixture in pop culture lore.  There are even burritos at Moe's inspired by it.  You may find yourself quoting the film almost involuntarily.  I certainly felt a grin that night I told a waiter to "put it on the Underhill's" tab and he got it.
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