Universal // 1985 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // May 23rd, 2008
Just don't call him Irwin!
What more is there to say about Fletch that hasn't already been said? Well, this is the first time I've seen the film and I decided to treat myself to the recent HD version. I guess the question for fans is, is it really worth the upgrade? Or, is this really another disguised triple-dip by Universal?
Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher (Chevy Chase, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) is a smart-ass, yet smooth-talking, investigative reporter who writes columns under the pseudonym "Jane Doe." He's also an expert at disguises, which he uses to his advantage to crack red-hot stories and publish them. His current assignment is to check out some drug-dealing going on at the local beach, though he's soon approached by the mysterious Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson, Animal House).
Stanwyck doesn't know Fletch is a reporter, but thinks he's just a beach bum. So, he offers him an intriguing proposal: he wants Fletch to kill him because he has a life-threatening bone cancer, and he wants his wife to collect the insurance. Fletch agrees not because he intends to carry out his side of the bargain, but so he can figure out what Stanwyck's real plan is. Armed with his penchant for disguises, he meets Stanwyck's "wife," Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Fast Food Nation), and a police chief (Joe Don Baker, Tomorrow Never Dies) with his own agenda.
Perhaps I had much-too-high expectations going into Fletch. I never found any of it hilarious, though I did laugh and smile more often than not. Granted, I'm not really a Chevy Chase fan (never saw him on Saturday Night Live) and, contrary to what Judge David Johnson said in his review of the "Jane Doe" edition, I will always think of Chase as Clark W. Griswold. Still, I can see how Fletch was a perfect vehicle for the comic, as it allowed for Chase's talent to run at full steam.
Much of the humor is built out of Chase's persona. In fact, Chase is the whole show with his endless, sarcastic one-liners and dodo-bird physical comedy. I loved numerous bits sprinkled into Fletch, such as the reporter's attitude to his wife's lawyer and another where he gets his head stuck in a lamp. However, there were many other scenes that hardly tickled my funny bone at all, such as -- surprisingly enough -- the disguise scenes. There's no denying that Chase's performance is terrific, considering that the role was practically tailor-made for him; it's just that many of the gags fail to hit the bulls-eye. Probably the standout is a crazy chase scene in downtown L.A., which is well-handled by Director Michael Ritchie, and Chase has some of his best lines here ("I pulled over before...I'll pull over again later!").
Ritchie (Fletch Lives) keeps everything reasonably entertaining. He also makes the wise choice of allowing Chase to improvise every now and then while keeping in touch with Andrew Bergman's (The In-Laws) tight script. The large supporting cast also manages to hold its own against Chase's antics, including Geena Davis (in her second film after Tootsie), Richard Libertini (Nell), and George Wyner (Spaceballs).
Universal originally released Fletch in a bare-bones edition soon after the introduction of DVD. Then, in early 2007, Universal responded to the film's ardent fans by releasing a Special "Jane Doe" Edition," complete with a new 5.1 Surround track and some bonus features. The new HD version is essentially the same as the JD edition, aside from the fact the presentation has been given a 1080p (with VC-1 encode) makeover. The picture quality is awesome (considering its mid-80s source), and it's actually an improvement over the JD version. Harold Faltermeyer's energetic score is also given a significant boost by the new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack.
The bonus features are all holdovers from the previous JD edition. The real meat is in the retrospective documentary, even though Chase is nowhere to be found (although the producers tried repeatedly to get in touch with him...or so they say). There is also a mercifully brief look at the disguises and a grainy theatrical trailer. Oh yes, there's a stupid "favorite moment" feature, which seems awfully redundant, considering the HD version has a "My Scenes" option. Despite the fun interviews in the documentary, I found none of these features particularly worthwhile.
Fletch remains a lot of fun. However, I don't think it was fun enough to warrant a franchise. The 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives was a silly, sorry blunder in which all the good things about the original got lost in sad Southern stereotypes. Despite that setback, Universal has been trying to get Fletch Won off the ground, which is supposedly set for release next year. Why bother, though?
Chase, Ritchie, and the film are free to go, though Universal is found guilty of triple-dipping and orders that it recalls all the HD copies and recycle them for Blu-ray.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Just Charge It to the Underhills"
* "From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman"
* "Favorite Fletch Moments"
* My Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* DVD Verdict Review - Special Edition