Universal // 1985 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // June 2nd, 2009
Meet the only guy who changes his identity more often than his underwear.
"In case you haven't guessed yet, there's been a lot of drug traffic on the beach. And I'm not talking about Robitussin and No-Doze. I'm talking about the hard stuff, and a lot of it. I've been trying to find out who's behind it. It hasn't been easy. I don't shower much." -- Fletch
Irwin Maurice "Fletch" Fletcher (Chevy Chase, Caddyshack) is a Los Angeles-based investigative reporter who writes under the byline Jane Doe. While working undercover on a story about drug dealing at the local beach, he's approached by a wealthy man named Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson, Animal House) with an interesting proposition. Claiming that he has bone cancer, Stanwyk offers to pay Fletch $50,000 to murder him so that his wife can collect a hefty insurance payout. Suspicious of Stanwyk's motives, Fletch accepts the offer in order to dig into the man's background. Using a variety of disguises and false names (including John Cocktoastin, Dr. Rosenpenis, Mr. Poon, and Harry S. Truman), Fletch unravels a convoluted scheme involving Utah real estate, as well as discovering that a local police chief (Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall ) is involved in the beachside drug trade.
Before some box office bombs and the almost instantaneous demise of his self-titled late-night talk show made him a butt of jokes in the early '90s, Chevy Chase had a massively successful film career that included '80s classics Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation, and Three Amigos!. But for my money, Fletch is the greatest of Chase's comedies. He perfectly embodies the dry wit, biting sarcasm, bone-deep distrust of authority, and devotion to the job that defined author Gregory McDonald's literary creation, I.M Fletcher. Chase improvises with such supreme confidence throughout Fletch that it's easy to take for granted his masterful delivery of a tapestry of one-liners so dense that the flick absolutely demands multiple viewings. He eschews hammy overacting in favor of a zippy but matter-of-fact naturalism. The result is a movie that is eminently quotable -- nearly every line of Chase's dialogue is hilarious and memorable.
The remainder of the movie's cast is there to do little more than play off of (and try to keep up with) Chase, but they all do a fine job. Seasoned character actors Richard Libertini (Catch-22), George Wyner (Spaceballs), and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple) are particularly strong as Fletch's boss, his ex-wife's divorce attorney, and a doctor who gives him a physical in one of the movie's most memorable scenes. Each of the actors has only a brief time onscreen, but their sharp and sometimes abrasive clashes with Fletch are perfectly played and absolutely hilarious. Joe Don Baker is appropriately menacing as a dirty cop who savors abusing his power. Tim Matheson has a fairly thankless job as the man who sends Fletch off on his adventure, but plays his misdirection of the audience with a spot-on professionalism that is more difficult than it looks. Hired mostly for her eye candy appeal, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Tombstone) has genuine chemistry with Chase and no problem keeping up with his rapid fire dialogue.
There's no denying that Chevy Chase is Fletch's key ingredient, but the movie has other strengths as well. It is one of only a handful of flicks that is simultaneously a full-bore comedy and a genuine crime mystery (The Thin Man and The Big Lebowski are two other comedy-crime hybrids that spring to mind). Adhering fairly closely to the Gregory McDonald novel upon which it is based, the movie has all of the hallmarks of good crime fiction: a convoluted but tightly structured mystery plot, a damsel in distress, a lead who knows his city and mixes effortlessly with both its upper and lower classes, and corrupt, easy to hate villains. Chase and director Michael Ritchie (The Bad News Bears) understood that they were making a movie that straddled the same line between noir and screwball comedy that W.S. Van Dyke's The Thin Man (1934) straddled. Chase's performance is calibrated to the same lightning pace and verbal acuity that are the hallmarks of classic screwballs. Ritchie delivers the noir elements by ensuring that each and every scene propels the plot forward despite the borderline mayhem of Chase's far-flung improvisations. McDonald's novel imitates Raymond Chandler's (The Big Sleep) picaresque crime stories in which the hero unravels the mystery almost by accident as he rubs elbows with a colorful collection rogues. Together, Chase and Ritchie deliver a fine blend of comedy and crime storytelling that does justice to McDonald's book and makes Fletch a classic crime comedy that remains as funny and entertaining today as it was when it hit theaters in 1985.
Fletch comes to Blu-ray in an impressive 1080p VC-1 transfer that maintains the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The video transfer is undoubtedly taken from the same master as the previously released HD-DVD version of the film. The source print was amazingly clean considering the age of the movie. Controlled use of digital noise reduction has maintained plenty of fine detail as well as an attractive grain structure. The disc delivers accurate colors and deep blacks. It's a great looking image. The HD-DVD's Dolby TrueHD audio track has been replaced with a DTS HD lossless track in 5.1 surround. Clarity is a good as the original source allows. Dialogue is vibrant and clean, while Harold Faltemeyer's (Beverly Hills Cop) synthesizer score fills the soundstage with punchy bass and tight programmed rhythms.
The Blu-ray edition of Fletch contains the same anemic collection of extras on the HD-DVD release, all of which were ported over from the 2007 Jane Doe Edition DVD. "Just Charge it to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch" (26:34) is a retrospective making-of featurette hosted by Jason Hillhouse (producer of the Jane Doe Edition DVD) and featuring interviews with producers Peter Douglas and Alan Greisman, and screenwriter Andrew Bergman. It isn't as funny as it tries to be, but is still more entertaining and informative than an electronic press kit. In "From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises" (4:54) Douglas, Greisman, and Bergman talk about the various disguises Fletch uses throughout the film. "Favorite Fletch Moments" (2:37) is a reel of memorable one-liners from the movie. The disc also contains a theatrical trailer for the film. Finally, the disc is BD-Live enabled.
This Blu-ray edition of Fletch is a minor disappointment because of the absence of any HD-exclusive content. The movie looks so good in high definition, though, that its legion of fans shouldn't hesitate to upgrade from DVD. If you're short on cash, just charge it to the Underhills' bill, along with a Bloody Mary, a steak sandwich, and...a steak sandwich.
You using the whole fist, Doc?
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG