So you may have heard that there’s a new Fletch movie out, which revives the wisecracking , investigative journalist of Gregory Mcdonald’s mystery novels for our wonderful modern age. You know, the character originally made famous by Chevy Chase? In Fletch, the 1985 comedy that’s arguably the former SNL star’s greatest onscreen moment not involving a golf club? And 1989’s Fletch Lives, the sequel that’s… let’s say slightly less beloved than the original?
This latest misadventure stars Jon Hamm, an inspired choice to take up the mantle of I.M. Fletcher, the charming, muckraking reporter with a knack for stumbling across kidnappings and corpses and the most corrupt members of our nation’s One Percent. There’s some missing artwork, a bit of whizzing around Rome on a scooter with an Italian girlfriend, a couple of bumbling cops, and, yes, the inconvenience of a dead body showing up in Fletch’s rental in Boston. Three guesses who the prime suspect is. (Rhymes with “sketch.”) All the while, Hamm is breezing his way through a role that may not have originated with him but seems tailor-made for his skill set, doing the bespoke matinee idol/class clown act he’s turned into a niche, occasionally stopping the charm offensive to play detective so Fletch can find out….
Hahahaha, we’re totally kidding. Of course you have not heard there’s a new Fletch movie out. You have not been inundated with billboards, surrounded by full-page ads, beset by TV spots and trailers galore. You did not know that not only has this film been out in theaters — possibly one or two near you! — since Sept. 16, but it can also be rented digitally and/or online as well. Maybe you caught Jon Hamm doing his patented Jon Hamm thing on a late-night talk show (or, more likely, saw clips on YouTube of Jon Hamm showing up on a late-night talk show) but weren’t exactly sure about the 411 of what he was promoting. What is this? When is it out? What’s he confessing to, or about? Is this a religious movie?
There is a poster, and a trailer, and the movie did get a Los Angeles premiere that allowed Hamm, director Greg Mottola, and several other cast members to walk a red carpet — we know this only because we’ve seen photographic evidence, although we’re not quite convinced this isn’t a false-flag gala event. Some reviews trickled in; the majority of them were extremely positive. But in terms of actually getting the word out that the movie exists in the first place? There’s been nada. A movie like this should not automatically fall through the cracks. That said, how do you sell something like Confess, Fletch — i.e. a comedy not featuring Will Ferrell or Ryan Reynolds, in which no Marvel heroes or Jedis or people named Harry Styles show up, and involving a film franchise that dropped its last entry prior to the first Gulf War — in the Year of Our Lord 2022?
Say Fletch around a moviegoer of a certain age, and they will automatically start quoting lines about ball bearings and borrowing a towel because their car just hit a water buffalo. (Full disclosure: I, too, have ordered numerous steak sandwiches and charged them to Mr. Underhill.) Mention the Chevy Chase film around millennials, and you’ll witness blank stares or funny memes of Regina George with doctored captions saying you should “stop trying to make ‘Fletch’ happen!” Say it around Gen Z kids, and they’ll simply ignore you and keep watching TikToks. Some of those last two demographics might recognize Hamm thanks to recent-ish pandemic rewatches of Mad Men, but his name above a title isn’t enough to put young asses in movie theater seats, even if he did have a prominent part in Top Gun: Maverick.
In terms of an intellectual property, Fletch isn’t exactly Star Wars or Ghostbusters. But it does fall right into a space of seriously untapped potential, and one which seems to no longer be the province of the movies: the mid-level, modestly budgeted franchise with just enough name recognition to warrant audiences and screens. Given the corporate shake-ups affecting cable channels and the casualties littering the battlefields of the streaming wars, such things may no longer be viewed as TV/streamer fodder as well. Ten to 12 years ago, Confess, Fletch would have opened in the middle of summer, or even been counterprogrammed for the season’s dog days, and been accompanied by a whirlwind of support from a patron-saint film studio. Six years ago, it would have been pitched as either an HBO show, an Amazon limited series, or a Netflix Gen-X nostalgia grab. Now it’s merely the equivalent of a tree falling into an unpopulated forest (or an empty multiplex auditorium).
None of this is the type of knotty, complicated mystery that Fletch himself seems to get tangled up in regularly. It’s a fairly cut-and-paste dump job. Read this interview with Mottola, and you’ll see your worst fears are more or less confirmed. In short: A star’s pet project became a joint labor of love with the director of Superbad, they were told they could make it for a certain budget, tons of potential backers passed, and no one had any clue how to market it. To quote a wise man, “That’s what the money is for!” Yet rather than throw more moolah at what couldn’t be considered a 100-percent sure thing, shoulders were shrugged. The film was released in what might be described as just north of “stealth mode,” with an equally quiet campaign for a simultaneous on-demand run. Skim the piece too quickly, and you might even miss the fact that it will end up on Showtime some time in the near future. A movie like this might have eventually found its audience on DVD, which might lead some folks to ask: What are DVDs, again?
We come not to bury Confess, Fletch — those in charge of releasing it beat us to that job — but, in fact, to praise it. It’s a delightful throwback to an age when a comic mystery fueled by someone with a screen-friendly persona and even screen-friendlier good looks weren’t an anomaly, and a perfect vehicle for Hamm. It’s right in the breezy, funny, irreverent sweet spot in which a filmmaker poised between journeyman and auteur like Greg Mottola works best. Daily Show alumni Roy Wood Jr. and The Afterparty‘s Ayden Mayeri do a great double act as near-incompetent Boston PD officers trailing Fletch. Lucy Punch, Marcia Gay Harden, and Bar and Star Go to Del Mar‘s Annie Mumolo lend support as a vapid fashionista, a horny Italian countess and a daffy, hippiesh neighbor, respectively; Kyle MacLachlan turns an EDM-loving, germophobe art-world elitist into a silver-fox douchebag extraordinaire. Speaking of silver foxes: John Slattery shows up briefly as Fletch’s sometime editor, giving us a Mad Men reunion that’s closest thing to fan service that the movie dabbles in. Our only complaint is that they don’t have more scenes together.
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Well, there is one other complaint, but it has nothing to do with the movie itself. That such monster intellectual properties have sucked up the oxygen of what’s left of a movie industry, and a filmgoing culture still willing to go to theaters to see a wide variety of movies big and small, is now a given. What is a tragedy is that a worthy movie like Confess, Fletch — which not only touches upon a gaggle of past genres (the Eighties raunch-com, the Thirties screwball, the murder-mystery farce, the launchpads for established marquee names to level up) but hits each mark so wonderfully — no longer has a chance to find an audience at all, much less one that would respond to it. Frankly, it’s a minor miracle this exists at all. A complete unwillingness to creatively bring this to market and get it in front of people dooms not only this movie but every one just like it. Unless you want nothing but franchises aimed at 11-year-olds, you’ll soon be out of luck. It’s. A. Huge. Fucking. Loss. And not just for those of those who live, breathe, eat, sleep and love movies.
Tech and times change — so do tastes. Yet some things could, and should, be perennial. A tweet went around yesterday asking: Who is the modern equivalent of Cary Grant? A host of the usual funny, dapper, charismatic ridiculously handsome suspects were trotted out, but they all seemed to be missing a certain presence that the late, great Archibald Leach had in spades. Not surprisingly, Jon Hamm got name-dropped a lot. And Confess, Fletch makes a great case for exactly why, with the right films and the proper amount of support, he could easily fit that bill. The crime is that, should we continue on a path of endless variations on the same two types of serialized blockbuster franchises with endless TV spinoffs and sidebars, we’re not likely to get anything close to a well-balanced moviegoing diet to support that possibility. We won’t even be able to turn Jon Hamm into the next Jon Hamm. (Who’s Jon Hamm? What character does he play in the MCU?) Never mind who the new version of the Golden Age screen icon is. Where’s the movie industry that can carve out space for the modern equivalent of a Cary Grant at all?