Our reviews of Fletch (Blu-Ray) (published June 2nd, 2009), The Fletch Collection (published August 18th, 2008), Fletch (HD DVD) (published May 23rd, 2008), and Fletch: The Jane Doe Edition (published May 1st, 2007) are also available.
Meet the only guy who changes his identity more often than his underwear.
Chevy Chase, at the top of his game, mixes smart-aleck, deadpan humor and serious suspense to perfection in Fletch. Based on the best-selling character from Gregory McDonald's series of books and sporting a fantastic synth-pop soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and The Running Man), Fletch is a favorite piece of '80s entertainment. However, being one of Universal's earlier releases, Fletch is somewhat lacking as a DVD.
Meet Jane Doe. Well, she's really a he, by the name of Irwin Fletcher (AKA Fletch) (Chevy Chase), who writes an investigative expose column under that alternate gender pseudonym for a Los Angeles paper. As Fletch opens, Jane Doe poses as an "amiable, minor-league junkie" as he looks into a drug distribution network on the local beaches. He knows the main dealer, Fat Sam (George Wendt), and figures that sad-sack beach bum Gummy (Larry Flash Jenkins) is linked in somehow, but suddenly a stranger makes Fletch a can't-refuse proposition.
Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson) wants Fletch to murder him. He claims to have been spying on Fletch (in his junkie persona) for several weeks, and has picked Fletch as suitable for the task. Stanwyk says he has incurable bone cancer and wants both to end his prospective suffering and to let his wife claim his life insurance proceeds. He promises Fletch a guaranteed escape and the princely sum of $50,000 cash for the murder. Having thus stumbled into a grotesque plot, Fletch feigns interest as his reporter's instincts kick into overdrive.
Dodging his nervous editor, 'Frank' Walker (Richard Libertini), Fletch starts digging into Alan Stanwyk's file, learning that his patron has married into the big money of Boyd Aviation. Next, an uncomfortable trip to Stanwyk's internist (never, EVER, complain of fake kidney pains!) and the records room at the local hospital directly contradict Stanwyk's dire claims of his poor health. With even more questions, Fletch adopts the persona of one of Alan's fly-boy buddies to (ahem) pump the delectable Mrs. Gail Stanwyk (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) for information, while running up a huge lunch tab at the local country club at the expense of an arrogant jerk, Mr. Underhill (William Traylor). Further trips to Alan Stanwyk's father-in-law, Stanton Boyd (as accident-prone SEC bureaucrat Mr. Poon), and to Provo, Utah, to burglarize the office of Stanwyk's realtor, Jim Swarthout (William Sanderson), supply more clues that Alan is up to some sort of scam.
Upon his return from Utah, Fletch rudely learns that the local police are none too happy to have learned of his undercover beach investigation. Chief Karlin (Joe Don Baker) is deadly serious when he tells Fletch to cease and desist, claiming a danger to his own investigation on the beach. Having narrowly escaped harm at Karlin's hands, Fletch invests 49 cents on novelty teeth for a goofy invasion of Boyd Aviation to dig more dirt before deciding on a heart to heart with Gail Stanwyk. Somewhat disenchanted with her playboy husband, she is truly shocked when Fletch sketches out Alan's shady behavior, but seems willing to help when needed.
When surveillance of Alan Stanwyk yields links to Chief Karlin, Fletch knows that he is swimming into treacherous, deep waters, and is proven right when a horde of police pops up and is out for his blood. Escaping by the narrowest of margins, Fletch uses another trip to Utah to unearth the final facts of Stanwyk's criminal enterprise, which also means a humiliating shock for Gail Stanwyk. Now that all the "cards" are on the table, Fletch solves the riddle of the beach drug investigation and the mystery of Stanwyk's murderous proposition all in one momentous evening.
In the end, Fletch is a reasonably intelligent crime drama dressed up with patented Chevy Chase dry wit and nearly absurd disguises, but without pushing over the line into slapstick or parody. By no means is this a sophisticated sort of humor, nor will you likely be rolling on the floor in gales of laughter, but you may smile, chuckle, and roll your eyes from start to finish. The best that I can say about any movie is that it stands up, viewing after viewing, and Fletch falls in that category.
Chevy Chase (Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation, Snow Day) infuses Fletch with just the right level of feigned insincerity, charm, and roguishness. He's a likable guy, but not without his faults. Joe Don Baker (Walking Tall, The Living Daylights, Mars Attacks!) has a lot of fun as Chief Karlin, oozing intimidation while creepily smiling all the time. Tim Matheson has never fulfilled the potential evident early in his career (Magnum Force, Animal House, 1941), and here is decent as the duplicitous Stanwyk, though you never get much of a sense of the motives behind the man. The many character actors, including Richard Libertini, M. Emmet Walsh (Slap Shot, Back to School, Albino Alligator), George Wendt, George Wyner, and William Sanderson, are small, well polished gems here. Also, look for an early performance by Geena Davis (Beetlejuice, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Stuart Little) as Larry, Fletch's loyal assistant.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If Caddyshack gets a special-edition re-release, then perhaps there is some hope for Fletch? As it is, the extras are limited here, though in fairness this is not bad for such a relatively early DVD release. I am sure we can all name any number of early Disney, Paramount, or Fox releases which were bare-bones discs. The standard stuff, namely production notes, cast & crew info, and the theatrical trailer are about what you would expect.
The anamorphic video transfer is okay, but a far cry from the quality levels of restored and new films I have seen nowadays. The indoor shots in particular seem quite dark, making it somewhat difficult to make out detail. Colors are adequately saturated for a typical 1980s-era movie and a fair sampling of flecks and blips are scattered throughout the print. Digital enhancement artifacts are not a problem, which considering the early release date of this disc, is a credit to the quality of Universal's mastering process. The most obvious visual flaw is during the end credits, where the picture (mostly the credits themselves) shake and shimmer all over the place.
I did not expect the Dolby Surround mix to blow my doors off, but I was still disappointed. The frequency reproduction and bass response were adequate, but the main failing of the mix is a very forward, narrow soundstage. I had to check on occasion to make sure that my front mains were active, because by and large the sound seemed restricted to the center channel, with little left for the mains and even less for the rear surrounds. Also, during the closing credits the singer's voice alternates between clarity and being muffled. As I indicated earlier, I like Harold Faltermeyer's work and am just a little unhappy that it didn't get a better showcase here.
Fletch is a great film to spin when you are looking to brighten your mood, or perhaps when you are having an '80s film festival. Strongly recommended for rental, but a purchase ($25 retail) is most advisable for Chevy Chase fans, people looking for some good action-comedy, or any devotees of '80s cinema.
The Court conditionally dismisses all charges. Chevy Chase is forgiven his string of flops if he would put some serious work into the mythical Fletch 3, and Universal is released on its promise to seriously consider a restored and remixed special edition for Fletch.
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