Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fletch - 1985

"Fletch" - 1985
Dir. by Michael Ritchie - 1 hr. 38 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

A serious question: how much do you dock a movie for not aging particularly well?  I guess that's not even entirely accurate, it's more of a question of whether one should take into account when a film was made, even if that means forgiving some things that seem really, really goofy in the present day?  I know that not every film is going to age well (particularly comedies), but the development over the last twenty-seven years of this particular type of comedy character kind of makes "Fletch" look rudimentary.

Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher (Chevy Chase) is a newspaper reporter, currently undercover on the beaches of Los Angeles, trying to crack open a story about who is pushing drugs on the beaches.  "Fletch" is a pseudo-detective story (the tone is supposed to be funny, not dire), so he's constantly clashing with his boss, drives a beat-up shit-wagon, is hounded by his ex-wife's lawyer for past-due alimony, is threatened by the police chief (Joe Don Baker), and quickly gets dragged into a scheme, where a rich businessman hires Fletch to murder him (it's an insurance scam).  Since this is a comedy primarily, it's worth mentioning that Fletch's shtick is to don disguises, offer up false names, and motor-mouth his way through every situation.

Before I get into my problems with "Fletch," let's throw a little praise.  It's a fast-paced comedy, and the plot actually works to propel the film from beginning to end (instead of wrapping everything up in the last fifteen minutes after spending the previous hour-plus ignoring the plot).  Also, there's a few familiar faces here and there, like Geena Davis and George Wendt, which is part of the fun of watching non-contemporary films.  More fun - seeing what Los Angeles looked like a bunch of years ago.

I don't want to imply that "Fletch" doesn't work, exactly.  It's just that, in the intervening years, the comedic crux of this film has been, shall we say, borrowed, and to better effect.  If you want to watch someone dress in costumes and play different characters, why not enjoy Roger (the alien) from "American Dad?"  If you want to watch a smart-ass detective bluff his way through solving crimes, perhaps "Psych" would be a good TV show to watch.  And to the point, "Psych" is a superior evolution to "Fletch."  Having a main character to play off of makes the difference between two friends playing and one person big-footing everyone in sight.  Here, it felt like Chevy Chase was delivering at least eighty-percent of the film's dialogue.  Largely, the other characters don't matter; they're all drowned out by Fletch's incessant chattering.  Perhaps that's the point, though.

At the time "Fletch" was released, Chevy Chase was a big comedy star, and no doubt the humor would have played better.  Age has taken it's toll on that aspect, changing what was probably viewed as a glib film into one that feels a bit desperate.  Desperate in the sense that Chase's character is being hounded on all sides, and his non-stop repartee feels like an attempt to keep any of it from sinking in.  If he can't hear anything but his own voice, then the rest of it isn't really real.  Even the romance sub-plot doesn't give off any sparks, because Fletch is too busy trying to make everyone else look stupid for not knowing who Ted Nugent is, for instance.  With everything else in his life in shambles, being a little smarter than everyone else is all that Fletch has left to hang on to.  I've found this when watching other older comedies: once the humor fades away, what's left is an entirely different film.

And how about those things that are really dated, and kind of detract from the experience of watching "Fletch?"  I'll stick with two: opening/ending credits, and the soundtrack.  I'm sure at the time, the synthesizer soundtrack didn't sound out of place, but let me assure you, it's not only out of place, but really awful, too.  It keeps popping back up in transition shots, trying to remind you that, ha ha, this is a comedy!  But since a lot of the humor has been eroded by time, it works against the film that a current audience would see.  And in a related issue, the film begins with a bad 1980s synth-pop song running over a black screen, while what feels like the entire cast's credits run.  Instead of starting off with a bang, it would be easy for someone to think that someone else had forgotten to rewind the VHS tape before they returned it, and that you were at the end of the movie.  And the end credits?  Have you ever wanted to see the credits run over a series of still shots of Chevy Chase mugging from all of the scenes throughout "Fletch?"  If so, you're in luck.  I mean, that's what you'll get to see, not that it's awesome, or anything other than unbearable.

I had a fond recollection of "Fletch," but upon this re-watching, it's apparent that Chevy Chase could have used a little help along the way with this one.  But he has no one to play off of, no one really gets the chance to do more than be the straw men that they need to be in order for the story to play out.  It's not as if "Fletch" is horrible or anything, but there are certainly better Chevy Chase films out there.

2 / 5 - TV

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