Universal // 1985 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 1st, 2007
"If you shoot me, you're liable to lose a lot of those humanitarian awards."
An '80s comedy mainstay and -- in this Judge's opinion -- Chevy Chase's best movie, lands on DVD in double-dip-tacular form.
Chevy Chase (Vegas Vacation) is Irwin Fletcher, a successful investigative reporter who writes his explosive columns under the pseudonym "Jane Doe." His current story is a whopper, as he tries to track the source of the rampant drug trafficking at the nearby beach.
One day, while undercover as a bum, Fletch is approached by a man named Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), who makes an intriguing offer: kill him and allow his wife to collect the insurance money. Fletch's journalist instincts kick in and he agrees, then spends the remainder of the film digging into the bizarre request and Stanwyk's possible connection to the drug ring.
Along the way he meets Alan's cute but clueless wife Gail (Dan Wheeler-Nicholson) and dons a multitude of disguises and lets fly with the world record for most one-liners in a 98-minute movie.
There's probably not much I can say about this movie that someone else hasn't already said a few hundred times, so I'll talk about why I dig this flick so much, and why I believe it's Chevy Chase's best film.
Fletch works so well because it's an example of successfully unifying two opposite genres -- mystery and comedy -- into one bizarre, breathing hybrid that is simultaneously hilarious and dramatically interesting. What's interesting is that the main plot is serious and director Michael Ritchie plays it straight. The drug smuggling storyline, the characters that play a role in it, pretty much everything associated with the "real" plot, is straight. The comedy comes into play when Chase adds his layer of comedy on top of that drama, like a sheet of nougat from those Twix commercials over the delicious cookie crust. This juxtaposition works remarkably well, allowing Fletch to be funny and silly yet escape the realm of parody.
This is primarily why I think the film is Chase's best. The comedy plays directly to his strengths as a comedian -- the line delivery, the ad-libbing, the physical comedy -- and the drama makes his character more than a one-dimensional joke-telling machine, and shows us he has a few dramatic chops in his repertoire (which would eventually blossom in the brilliance that is Memoirs of an Invisible Man).
The filmmakers also make a point to keep Fletch from being surrounded by a simple line of straight men. Sure, the characters lob jokes at Chase, but they react realistically to his inanity (well, most of them), and that dynamic keeps the film grounded in realism. Fletch is a serious investigative reporter and he's after something huge and dramatic at the cost of his own life, but he also happens to have a wicked wit. The gimmick with Fletch's myriad of disguises fits into this narrative construct well, simultaneously letting Chase run wild with some ridiculous personas, while also staying true to the character and his mission. It's just a perfect blending of tones, you dig? And yeah, the plot isn't Chinatown-quality in its serpentine storytelling, but it's more than adequate for an action-comedy.
Finally, Fletch is remarkable simply because of how funny it is. Not every jokes lands, but a lot of them do, and this ratio is impressive when you consider that virtually every piece of dialogue that Chase utters is a wry one-liner. This movie ranks right up there with Caddyshack (another classic that I consider more an ensemble piece than a straight Chase vehicle) as a supremely quotable piece of cinema. How many times have I told someone I was shepherd when asked what I do for work? More than I can count, my friend. More than I can count.
This is a solid DVD and represents the one to get if you're still sitting on the Fletch fence. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is fine, if a bit soft, and the new 5.1 surround mix will blast that nonstop recurrent theme into your head until your nose bleeds. Three new features accompany the movie, one of which is very good ("Just Charge it to the Underhills," a unique take on the retrospective documentary that interviews former cast and crew, save Chase himself), another that's okay (a brief segment on the disguises) and the last, which is a cop-out for padding (a few minutes of one-liners edited together).
One of the great '80s comedies receives a worthwhile double-dip. It's worth your money if you don't own the film yet or are desperate to check out the new bonus features.
Fletch lives! Wait...
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Just Charge it to the Underhills" Documentary
* "From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises"
* Favorite Fletch Moments