✰✰✰✰ (out of five)
Synopsis: While investigating a case of valuable stolen paintings, the roguishly charming and endlessly troublesome Fletch becomes the prime suspect in a murder. To prove his innocence, he must sift through a long list of suspects -- from an art dealer to a missing playboy to a crazy neighbor to his own girlfriend.
Review: This ain't your daddy's Fletch. But that depends on the paternity of his love for the investigative journalist: the Gregory MacDonald book series started in 1974 or the cult classic 1985 film starring Chevy Chase? Some say the original is the quintessential Chevy Chase performance; I am firmly in that camp in 100% agreement. Others say it's too "Chevy heavy," with it being more Fletch as Chevy Chase rather than the other way around: for that I disagree (see Fletch Lives for that, and less said about that garbage the better). I argue that the original Fletch film has a balance between the 1974-published source material and the humor of Chase. In short, its a perfect marriage. MacDonald's Fletch is snarky, dry witted, and sarcastic as hell. His words get him into as much trouble as they get him out of. So, you could say Chase is living vicariously through that character.
After decades of start-stop attempts to reboot, continue on, etc. the character, director Greg Mottola gets the task with Confess, Fletch and having Jon Hamm taking the lead role of the investigative journalist. In the book, Fletch is a fine arts writer, but the film provides a jolt of real-life, turning him into a freelancer (Fletch is constantly introduces himself as a a former newsman “of some repute.”).
In fact, Hamm's Fletch takes off his shoes and socks more than once in the film--to the annoyance of the characters surrounding him. It's almost like he's saying, "Ok, now that I've filled the shoes, let me take them off and do my own thing."
Like I said, this is a different Fletch from the original film.
And that is where the comparisons will always lie: how does Hamm compare to Chase, and how does the former's film stack up against a cult classic? This is a double edged sword, as you can see. Chase's interpretation of the character is similar but not exact to MacDonald's. But reading the book my first time after seeing the film, it is difficult to not hear Chase's voice as your read it despite the differences. Needless to say, both have the effect needed. So do we compare Hamm to Chase or the book? Let's do both.
Next to Chase, Hamm's Fletch is much more reserved. The original film almost played out like a film noir with Chase providing narration. it works even if it's not wholly necessary, but I always see it as an extension of the ad-libbing: there was enough material to use a lot of it in some way shape or form. Here, Hamm does zero narration, which works for the story and outcome of the mystery: we do not know what he is thinking. And since Fletch is constantly having to stay one-step ahead of the police trying to pin a murder on him, this sans-narration works.
Hamm's Fletch is more in the vein of MacDonald's intention. He's sharp. He's smart. He's witty. He's snarky and sarcastic. He also is prone to saying things that finds him under the skin of more than a few. Not to mention, the first few minutes is almost verbatim how the novel Confess, Fletch starts, with some dialogue literally lifted from MacDonald's text.
Mottola brings this Fletch into a modern age. Freelancer is an appropriate way to show him, given the vast cuts to local journalism and forcing those slashed to multi-purpose themselves as for-hire across various platforms. And Hamm flat out says why--the digital age has changed his area of work. But it's never dwelled on. Nor is the Covid pandemic. ignored. The art dealer character named Horan (Kyle MacLachlan) is portrayed in the book as a bit of a recluse; Mottola and his screenwriters have him not shaking hands for many years before Covid hit, and even having solid metal goblets on his desk for pens--one labeled Clean and the other Dirty. Again, this is not dwelled on. It's a wink to Fletch entering the new millennium.
The mystery itself is decent enough. It does dovetail downward a bit in third act, but that's from the perspective of someone having read the book and knowing what to expect as an outcome. That doesn't mean it doesn't work. Mottola keeps things moving, and the film is a breezy, refreshing hour-and-thirty-eight minutes. It's as light to watch as the books are to read.
It is a bit sad to report to those expecting Inspector Flynn--Fletch's Boston PD vocabulary foil of Irish descent in the original book--will not find him here. As they will know, this character became recurring and so popular, MacDonald spun him off into his own series of books. So that is a different set of film rights. Here, we get Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) as similar version of Flynn on Fletch's tail. Also along for the ride is Fletch's former longtime editor Frank, played by a grouchy John Slattery (who would've made a great Flynn, if I may say so my damned self). Lorenza Izzo and Marcia Gay Harden also appear as Fletch's Italian fiancé and her embattled contessa step-mother, respectively.
Confess, Fletch has legs for the character to continue. It's up to the audience to embrace this new version. I want to see more of Hamm's Fletch even if the final product isn't perfect. He and Mottola show the character is not over-the-hill just yet.
He just now finding his bearings.
BONUS! Check out our podcast discussion on the original Fletch film with longtime Daily Herald film critic and former Chicago Film Critics Association President Dann Gire @ anchor.fm/hollywoodsnitch and on all your favorite platforms. Just search The Snitch Network to hear all of our episodes! We also have the Fletch episode embedded at the top of this page!