Judge Daryl Loomis has a fake nose and moustache which have gotten him into plenty of wild adventures.
Our reviews of Fletch (published June 30th, 2000), Fletch (Blu-Ray) (published June 2nd, 2009), Fletch (HD DVD) (published May 23rd, 2008), and Fletch: The Jane Doe Edition (published May 1st, 2007) are also available.
Molesting a dead horse.
Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase, Caddyshack), known to his friends as Fletch, is an investigative journalist who writes under the pen name "Jane Doe" for a major Los Angeles newspaper. Using a quick wit, a smart mouth, and an array of crazy disguises, he has taken down some of the biggest crooks in L.A. It's these same traits though, that get him into heaps of trouble…with hilarious results.
Universal has triple-dipped with their release of Fletch, coupling it with a double-dip of Fletch Lives in a nice box. What surprises does our intrepid reporter have in store for us inside?
Facts of the Case
Fletch: Undercover on the L.A. beaches, Fletch pretends to be a junkie so he can infiltrate a huge drug smuggling ring when he is approached by rich playboy Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson, Animal House). Stanwyck, judging Fletch on his appearance, has a lucrative offer. He'll give this "homeless guy" $50,000 to kill him so his wife can collect the insurance money. Fletch goes along with him, agreeing to the offer, but begins investigating him immediately. After bedding Stanwyck's wife (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Tombstone) and playing everyone against the other, Fletch discovers that Stanwyck may be better connected than he let on.
Fletch Lives: Sick of the rat race and listening to his pushy editor, Fletch is ready to hang it up. By coincidence, his elderly aunt has just passed on and left Fletch her palatial estate in Louisiana. After giving a two-word resignation, he catches the first flight south. Upon arrival, however, he realizes that "palatial" isn't exactly the right word for what he received. The place is dilapidated and the cops harass him for his big city ways but, more than that, a group of investors want the property for their own nefarious reasons and they won't take no for an answer.
The pair of Fletch films, while similar in name, star, and director (Michael Ritchie, Semi-Tough), differs wildly in quality. The original is classic, one of the most effective examples of an action comedy. The follow up, on the other hand, is one of the most unfortunate sequels of all time, lacking all the charm of the original. When comparing the two, the myriad faults in the sequel are more than apparent, but the most important problem is just how far the plot fell away in Fletch Lives.
Fletch is a near perfect combination of comedy and mystery, with Chase working his quips and pratfalls around a supporting cast that plays it all straight. Red herrings, characters stabbing each other in the back, twists and turns, they're all here. The plot and characters are well constructed in their own right; it doesn't take Chevy Chase alone to make us care. Without Chase, without the comedy at all, Fletch could still have the potential to be a decent mystery. With the inclusion of Chase, it's comedy gold and, over two decades later, the jokes still pack a punch. The comedy rests entirely on the shoulders of Chase's (short lived) genius. He is perfectly aloof no matter how dangerous or absurd his situation becomes. The lines come fast, faster when Chase is put in dangerous predicaments, and the action is well done. This is Chase's best solo performance and the best film he was ever in next to Caddyshack, though that is more of an ensemble piece.
Fletch Lives, on the other hand, ranks in a tie for last with about 10 of Chase's later films. This sequel is pure garbage that, outside of one funny scene, sucks every bit of life out of what made the original so great. By this time, Chases comedic skills were beginning to wane, but he still has it at times. The trouble is that, even when the jokes are good, the supporting cast, rather than playing it straight, constantly winks at the camera, letting us know that they're as in on the jokes as we are. Worse still, the supporting characters are your basic, stock Southern stereotypes embodied by B-grade stars that ruin any credibility in the story. Hal Holbrook (Creepshow) as the scheming plantation owner; Lee "Tex" Cobb (Raising Arizona) as the hick prison rapist (in that one funny scene); R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) as a pay-to-pray evangelist?! It's some of the worst casting I can think of. On top of it all, the film's big set piece is an absolutely awful rendition of "Zippity Doo Da," complete with animated animals and servants doing some soft-shoe dance. If the plan was to satirize Song of the South, it fails miserably. It's tasteless, which would be fine if the scene was funny in any way, but it is absolutely not funny.
Universal has really gone on the cheap for the Fletch Collection. Both discs are direct reissues of the films' previous releases. The disc for Fletch even reads "The Jane Doe Edition," the subtitle of the previous release. This collection is obviously designed to sell off their remaining copies of the films by putting a new case around them. This new case, though, is more entertaining than Fletch Lives, which isn't surprising because so is an ingrown toenail. The cover features a picture of Chase with a wheel that allows you to change his head into some of the various disguises in the films. It's simple, but at least they put some thought into it. The transfers for both films are the same as the previous releases. Both have somewhat soft colors and inconsistent black levels, but they are otherwise adequate. The sound is clean and loud enough to keep the irritating theme song stuck in your head for a week. The extras remain unchanged from the old releases as well. The original contains an interesting making-of featurette, even if Chase declined to participate. A small feature on the disguises and, in possibly the cheapest special feature of all time, a montage of Fletch's one-liners round out the disc. Fletch Lives is bare bones, with only a trailer for supplement.
A brilliant original and a terrible sequel make for a very mediocre set. For anybody who already owns Fletch: The Jane Doe Edition and the sequel, there is nothing to recommend in this triple-dip.
Guilty of redundancy, Universal is sentenced to watch Fletch Lives until they apologize.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Fletch
Perp Profile, Fletch
Distinguishing Marks, Fletch
• "Just Charge It to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch"
Scales of Justice, Fletch Lives
Perp Profile, Fletch Lives
Distinguishing Marks, Fletch Lives
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