When one thinks of Chevy Chase it’s hard not to immediately envisage Clark W. Griswold driving his family in a station wagon to a theme park, but as iconic as that role is to this particular fan of Chase, another of his roles is equally memorable, that of reporter Irwin M. Fletcher or ‘Fletch’ as he likes to be called, and the 1985 comedy of the same name.
Fletch is a hybrid of both comedy and thriller with Fletch as an investigative journalist who writes a column for the Los Angles Times under the pseudonym Jane Doe. When we first meet Fletch he is posing as a junkie on a beach whilst trying to expose a local drug ring. He’s soon approached by a wealthy businessman Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson) with an interesting offer. He asks Fletch to kill him for fifty thousand dollars. Whilst Fletch is initially sceptical, it is explained to him that this willing murder victim is suffering from a rare form of bone cancer and if he is killed, his widow will inherit a larger life insurance policy payout.
Being a natural reporter, Fletch instantly smells a bigger article and pretends to go along with the plan whilst investigating the real story behind Stanwyk’s motivations. This is where the film really takes off and Chase is given the opportunity to fully showcase his comedic versatility. Fletch is a master of disguise, well not really as you can clearly see that it’s just him in a wig, but it leads to some great comic character moments and Chase clearly had a ball making Fletch and has said that this character was the one he enjoyed playing the most.
Chase plays the role with diamond-sharp comic timing, portraying a character so full of nonchalance for everybody else on his planet. His one liners, delivered with Chase’s trademark deadpan expression and tone, leave his foils nodding in agreement almost automatically before the realisation that they’ve been taken for a ride hits them. What I love so much about this is that by the time they’ve given Fletch a double take he’s already followed up with another insult or quip in the ultimate act of misdirection.
This film is full of quotable lines that I could devote an entire article to and I would wager that at least ninety nine percent of them come from Chase himself. I’m trying my hardest not to give away too many, but I must say that if I’m ever in a situation where a beautiful blonde woman answers the door to me, dripping wet from a shower, with only a small towel to protect her modesty, then I will be compelled to use Fletch’s response,
“Can I borrow your towel for a sec? My car just hit a water buffalo”.
Although a lot of the jokes were scripted by writer Andrew Bergman, Chase is said to have been allowed to improvise a lot of his lines by director Michael Ritchie. There has been talk in recent years of Fletch being rebooted with a different actor taking the lead but I would struggle to think of anyone who could pull it off the way Chase was able to. This is said to be Chase’s first role after his battle with drug addiction and it could be seen as being a form of therapy for him. As if he was able to use being effortlessly funny as his way of coming back to normality and just doing what he was born to do.
As well as a comedy/thriller there are also scenes of action incorporated with a few minor fights and a great car chase. In terms of this blending of genres we don’t often see films like this today and the nearest comparison I could think of would be the original Beverly Hills Cop, which came out the year before. Interestingly both films feature a score by Harold Faltermeyer and whilst “Fletch’s theme” may not be as iconic as the synonymous “Axel F” tune, it is none the less a classic piece of eighties pop-synth magic. Much like Eddie Murphy as Foley, Fletch is a figure devoid of respect for authority yet still has a sense of commitment to doing the right thing, protecting the innocent and taking down the bad guys.
The film also benefits from fine supporting cast which features an extremely young Gina Davis (in only her second film role) and George Wendt (Cheers) appearing in a small role, but make no mistake this is very much Chase’s film.
The writer of the original set of Fletch novels, Gregory McDonald, on which this film’s plot is loosely based, had sold the option to his work in the late seventies with the proviso that he had the right to veto any casting decisions on who would play the lead and he is said to have prevented both Mick Jagger and Burt Reynolds from taking on the role. Whilst the Stones frontman may have been a stretch, I could envisage Reynolds in a differing version of the lead, replete with his Smokey and the Bandit style Schtick. Whilst Reynolds may have suited the film far better than Jagger he may have been simply to much of a matinee idol to have endeared to the role in the way that Chase was able to and that this would’ve ended up a very different film as a result, so hats off to Mr McDonald, who was obviously immensely proud of his creation and is said to have agreed to Chase’s casting instantly. He reportedly sent the actor a telegram upon Chase accepting the role, which read “I am delighted to abdicate the role of Fletch to you”.
The books were written in a first person narrative and the film compliments this perfectly as Chase provides his own dry narration throughout , giving the feel of an old noirish detective movie, whilst also still being heavy on laughs. This allows Fletch to allude to his ongoing struggle with life and the people he is forced to deal with, giving an explanation for his next move by pouring cynicism on the person or event that has lead him to it. Apparently the narration was a late entry and only added after production had been completed, but it fits in brilliantly and provides the viewer with a clear indicator of how the character manages to cope with the situations that surround him.
Fletch is definitely a step behind Beverly Hills Cop in its sense of reality, with a more outward approach to its comedy, highlighted marvellously during a dream sequence where Fletch sees himself on television as a oversized, Afro hairstyled, basketball player for the L.A. Lakers, after falling asleep watching a game. Whilst some may prefer a more subtle style of comedy than what is on offer here, for me this film is an overlooked comedy classic with genuine laugh out loud moments. If you’re looking for an example of comedic, quotable brilliance, combined with a decent plot, then this is the movie for you.
Chase will always be a personal favourite of mine for his comedic performances throughout the ‘80s and with Fletch, the aforementioned National Lampoon Vacation series and the cult classic Caddyshack, I believe he rightly sits near to the top of the comedy film mountain of this particular period in film history.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 8/10