Confess, Fletch is the best cover band take on a Chevy Chase humored murder mystery. But, it’s not Chevy and there’s barely a chase.
Jon Hamm is an incredible talent. But, sometimes you don’t give a basketball to a baker. What does that mean? Well, it’s not as always enough to be charming and capable. Sometimes, you have to fit the role in which you find yourself.
Fletch in The Senator Bentsen Conundrum
Subverting your expectations has become quite the lampooned and over-exposed phrase in the last five years of film discussion. Spawning off Director Rian Johnson‘s approach to his intentions with the 8th sequel in a then 40 year old franchise, it felt dumb. Why start now? How about doing your own thing and not trying to spin your take into a tale that is 85% written?
It’s the constant battle of the adaptation and what it means in the end. While blind fandom demands loyalty to the original, there is always the easy to misunderstand component of artistic merit. At what point are you making a masterpiece and at what point are you manhandling Ecce Homo?
Is it Fletch or is it Flynn?
After leaving The Boston Globe and becoming a novelist, author Gregory McDonald first created the Fletch series and later spun off the Flynn books. Flynn was a more Boston friendly Fletch stand-in that feels way more familiar to Hamm’s performance of Fletch. Even the choice to move the film’s action to Boston felt like the strongest tip of the hat towards the secondary series McDonald made. But, let’s not act like the Flynn books were anything more than East Coast Fletch.
That being said, the general public’s familiarity with character differences in literary works is running pretty thin. Hell, you are lucky to find someone under 30 that even remembers Fletch or Chevy Chase. But, it’s that overall vagueness in the story, the characters and what is being pulled into Confess, Fletch that is just so much of a jumble.
But, Hamm feels more like the literary Fletch when he’s firing on all cylinders
Jon Hamm is the greatest non-quite movie star living right now. In a just world, he’d be an A-lister on the level of a DiCaprio or Pitt. Right now, movie fans know him as the guy from Bridesmaids, and the boyfriend on 30 Rock and marketing world role model Don Draper. What defenders of Confess, Fletch are already staking out is his ability to dial in the humor found in the source novel.
While Hamm does that in spades, it’s what is going to invite the comparisons to Chevy Chase and the original books. If you’re still reading past the opening argument, then I want to thank you for actually reading things in 2022. Beyond that, I want to explain our approach to the film.
Let’s actually talk Confess, Fletch
Confess, Fletch exists as a standard high budget indie tinged murder mystery. But, it also has the Fletch brand. Let’s add a little more onto it. The film has an insanely stacked cast for what it is here. Slattery makes the most out of Fletch’s editor, while Larry gets reduced to a basic cameo. Most of the emphasis is on the supporting casts of suspects and Boston inspectors trying to make sense of the art crime turned murder.
The Countess, Horan and Angela make up most of Fletch’s verbal sparring partners, but they come in with the flexibility of the original text but with none of the cinematic setup to make it make sense. Hell, Robert Picardo’s brief role of The Count gets tacked on in a way that seems designed to only make sense of the original setup and give The Countess and Angela a reason for a conclusion.
But, what about everything in the middle? Annie Mumolo’s stoner neighbor showing up with the dog that pisses everywhere? Super empowered female inspector Griz who always seems to have the upper-hand on Roy Wood Jr’s character, but really seems to exist just to explain away her interesting name?
Notice how I didn’t bring up the plot. Well, that’s because Confess, Fletch forgets about it most of the time to setup the overall hang of the film. You can’t bring the leisurely pace of a Fletch novel to a film and this made the case.
Do you actually like Fletch?
I love Fletch, but I’m a weirdo. However, all of the McDonald novels are light to mid reads that don’t require a ton of forethought and aren’t exactly page turners. These are mystery novels you pick up on a Vacation or to pass the time and then read at your own pace. Such tempo doesn’t translate to film, as you have to keep everything moving. Hence why Universal in the 80s felt they need to make Fletch into the Chevy Chase show for two films.
For those that don’t know, Fletch Lives is more of a pick and choose adventure of random Fletch novel elements and more designed to show off Chase. But, damn if Hal Holbrook and Cleavon Little weren’t great in it. While that movie bombed, it at least understood the demands of translating the material to a group of casual theatergoers.
Over the next few days, you’re going to hear a lot of people making excuses for why the film didn’t connect and it sucks. I would love to see all of the Fletch films get adapted and even the Flynn novels. Hell, I’d go for another film take on Running Scared. But, I’m not the average movie goer and neither are you. So, who is more than likely going to head out to theaters and watch a murder mystery that’s dialogue heavy and targeted to adults?
Older Americans love a good mystery and cops. If you had a Polio shot, you probably have a favorite cop in your life
I don’t hate Baby Boomers, but I hate how they interact with the world and well, everything else. That being said, I try to understand them with the many, many things they do that irritates the hell out of me. And a lot of their blind adoration for authority figures starts with how they first encountered popular fiction. Meaning the ever-present Family TV and what made up the first 10-15 years of their viewing experience.
When traced across a long enough timeline, 55% of all American TV shows from Post WWII to 2022 features one of the three as the lead: a lawyer, a doctor or a cop. There are lengthy studies about the impacts of representation and repetition. So, naturally when they weren’t in school or playing outside, they were getting hammered with images of authority figures saving the day.
There was always a mystery to be solved, but it had to fit a narrative structure that places the criminal in custody and everyone in a better place. Think this has changed? Go ahead and ask your parents about their favorite episode of Blue Bloods. Even if they don’t watch it, they have always meant to give it a shot and they have something else they love. It’s always going to be a cop, lawyer or doctor show.
What waters down Confess, Fletch is its deflated nature.
Confess, Fletch can’t get out of its own way. Whether it’s the flat humor, soft delivery on the investigative setups or shooting in Boston in 80% abandoned locations feels so defeated. Director Greg Mottola is a talented individual with great comic staging. Just look at his work on The Daytrippers and Adventureland vs. Superbad.
While Mottola had a hand in writing Daytrippers, Adventureland and Confess, Fletch…there’s a change in the comedies he directs but doesn’t write. Superbad and Paul are the two biggest examples of things he staged, but didn’t script. Those movies played broad and still get replay with mainstream audiences. So, what’s the idea behind taking the 1985 basic cable comedy fodder and trying to play for the Arthouse set?
It’s not a bad thing to play to the Arthouse or adults, but it hits weird when you’re coming in after a certain level was established. By drifting away from it, you’re calling attention to what you’re doing and not always in a positive way. Some will make the argument that Jon Hamm is portraying Fletch closer to McDonald’s literary Fletch, even though there are shades of Flynn. But, it’s not like any of you all read.
There was a time when American Cinema was for adults
Did you see that clip when it happened in 2007? While Meryl Streep wasn’t wrong AT ALL, it felt quaint coming from someone who benefited from the system putting her movies over the smaller works. The same argument was made over the next 5-7 years until eventually everything collapsed. There are no adult American movies anymore, because there aren’t adult viewers.
This is said as an overly active kid reader who went out and started reading all of the Fletch novels after spending too much time watching Fletch and Fletch Lives. Hell, I was rooting for Kevin Smith to take a stab at it with Fletch Won! From a linear standpoint, it makes sense to pick up the Fletch universe with Confess, Fletch. Hell, it is the second novel in the series.
But, watch Fletch (1985) and then watch Confess, Fletch. Tell me that one story is meant to flow naturally into the other. There are elements at play that are similar, but your experience with the material will depend on how you first approach it.
What does it all mean?
Ultimately, this Fletch outing is going to struggle to find an audience. While everything that isn’t Maverick or Spider-Man struggles now, let it be said that I appreciate the effort that Mottola, Hamm, Slattery and others have put onscreen here. It’s the most noble of noble efforts, but it’s just not very interesting.
There is a world of difference between good and interesting. Any solid artistic effort that strives to reach an audience is inherently good. Interesting means there is enough there to stick with you long after the plot is resolved. That is missing in spades, but also feels more in-tune with the bulk of the movies that Miramax was putting out in the 1990s.
So many look back on that time and only remember the work of Tarantino or the prestige winners, but they fail to remember such movies as The House of Yes and Squeeze. Good enough, but there’s a reason no one talks about them anymore. As a student of film history and a deep lover of entertainment, I live on the edge of where the two film fan brain styles meet.
The need to respect the art and the demand of what audiences are actually needing at the moment. One foot stays in both worlds, so when either side fails…I can see it almost immediately. There are going to be many people that love Confess, Fletch. However, there are going to be more that let it slip past them into the void of so many other films. They’re called cult classics for a reason. These are little gems that need a small group of dedicated of fans to keep them alive.