For All the Art in Boston
Fletch is one of those properties that I think people feel is more popular than it (or its main character) really may be. The character was popularized by the Chevy Chase film, Fletch, released in 1985, and that film did solid Box office based on Chase doing funny voices and wearing silly costumes. Silly is, in fact, the best way to describe that film, which blends the crime-comedy style of Beverly Hills Cop with Chase's comedic stylings. It worked, for the time, and many still hold the film in high regard. But as a franchise, it's hard to say that Fletch, the character, is someone general audiences needed back in their lives.
Make no mistake, there was a way for the franchise to extend itself out to become a long-running, and quite beloved, media franchise. Getting a sequel out to audiences faster than the four year gap between 1985's Fletch and 1989's Fletch Lives would have been a good start so that audiences didn't forget what they liked about the first film. Ensuring the sequel wasn't a giant turd of a film would have also been good (as Fletch Lives is just terrible). And, while the first film rode the star power of Chase while he was at his height, his star very quickly tarnished (in large part because he's a giant ass). What Fletch needed was a lot of its elements to be completely different to really sustain the franchise. Instead, we got an over 30 year gap between the original film and the sequel and newest entry in the series, Confess, Fletch.
Based on the second book in the novel series (also called Confess, Fletch), this movie hews pretty close to what worked about the character: smarmy, always quick with a one-liner, and more than willing to pretend to be anyone if it can get him that much closer to his story. With Jon Hamm taking over the role of Irwin Maurice "Fletch" Fletcher, what the film had to prove was not only that someone else could take on the role of the titular character and make them work, but that audiences actually gave a shit about Fletch at all. On that second front, at least, Confess, Fletch failed to prove its case, even if Hamm does deliver a solid new turn in the lead role.
We meet up with Fletch (Hamm) in Boston having just flown in to stay at an Airbnb arranged by his girlfriend, Andy. When he gets to his place, though, he finds a body, murdered via blunt force trauma. Fletch immediately calls it in and soon the entire homicide squad is there, going through the whole house. The two detectives on the case, Sergeant Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and Junior Detective Griz (Ayden Mayeri), both think Fletch killed the woman just because he was standing over her, in his rental, and his finger prints were on the murder weapon (a bottle of wine left for Fletch as a "gift"). It's open and shut in their books.
However, as we learn, Fletch didn't have motive or opportunity to kill the woman. He really did just fly in to Boston, having returned after a trip to Italy. There he was working on the case of stolen paintings, hired by the Count de Grassi. The Count's daughter, Angela "Andy" de Grassi (Lorenza Izzo) initially didn't want Fletch on the case but Andy quickly warms to Fletch and the two fall into bed together. She pays him so he can follow his leads out to Boston and see where the paintings have gone while she follows up on a sudden new twist in the case: the disappearance of her father. Fletch now has to find the paintings, prove his innocence, and figure out what's really going on in a case that gets more and more twisted as time wears on.
Let's look at what works in the film: Jon Hamm. We've seen Hamm in a number of films and shows over the years, with the actor gaining his big break in Mad Men, moving him from bit parts and single episode stints in previous works and out into the lead. Since then he's starred as heroes and villains in a variety of films, proving to be a reliable actor that can play a diverse array of characters. He brings that same skill and charm to Fletch, letting him blend into a number of put on roles as the reporter and investigator, all while still feeling like Fletch. He gets to stretch his comedy chops, being sarcastic and witty, all while keeping the character focused and in control. Whether or not audiences liked the film (and it seems like most didn't even bother watching it), Hamm proved more than capable of taking on the lead as Fletch.
And, fact is the film puts a strong cast around him. Roy Wood Jr., Ayden Mayeri, Lorenza Izzo, Kyle MacLachlan, Annie Mumolo, Marcia Gay Harden, and Robert Picardo help round out a cast full of comedians and character actors. They bring life to the roles, making Confess, Fletch feel very lived in and solidly real. This film lacks the heightened humor of Chevy Chase's original, but it works because the actors are committed to the work. The failings of the movie are not with the people in it.
No, where the film falls down is in its story. Although I haven't read the original book, so I can't speak to how committed to the text this film was, I will note that the script here seems to get bored with its plot about halfway in (whether that's a trait is shares with the book or not). The front half of the film is hilarious, moving back and forth between Boston and Italy to inform us of the whole story while letting Hamm flex as Fletch. It's fast, it's funny, and it shows all the comedic dynamics the film needed to make you forget all about 1985's Fletch... but then it just runs out of steam.
Somewhere in the middle of the case the movie puts too many balls in the air, has too many characters involved, and it all just because this big mess. Is Fletch on the case of the paintings or the murder or the missing Count? Is he working with the cops or against them? What do all these characters have to do with the whole overarching plot? Were it an Agatha Christie you'd learn that each person involved in the case has their own motives, their own crime they committed, and the bodies would start dropping. Instead, no one is involved at all, and then the film just gets bored and walks away from all of them. Nothing matters and all the setup is thrown out the window.
I think the greatest failing is that, by the end of it, the film is even bored with Fletch. His one liners come less often, he gets less and less to do, and, in the end, the case isn't even solved by our investigative reporter. Frankly this is the kind of film where, had Fletch just sat on the sidelines and done nothing, the exact same resolution would have come about. It's one thing to have your hero haplessly bumble through what he's doing; it's quite another to make them completely inconsequential to their own movie. The film stops caring about Fletch and, at that point, it's hard to care about Confess, Fletch.
There's a lot to like in this film and, for a good two of the three acts, the film is involving and interesting. It just loses its way when it finally has to actually buckle down and solve this whole thing. Then it loses Fletch, all the other characters, and most of the audience. The film falls down, pretty hard, and it's just sad to see. Thankfully (or maybe not) most audiences didn't have to see this film fail to stick the landing as it only made $656 Thousand (not Mil) at the Box Office against a $20 Mil budget. While the writer/director said he was hired to write a sequel to this film (based on the follow-up book, Fletch's Fortune) it's hard to see how this series continues after dismal numbers like that.
More likely we'll get another stab at the material with a new cast and crew somewhere down the line. Hopefully it doesn't take 30 years for that next movie to come out. There's fun to be had with Fletch, as Confess, Fletch proves. We just need a film that actually stays interested in the case, and the lead character, for the whole of its run time.