By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Fletch on Blogcritics.
Fletch has arrived on Blu-ray and it’s high time to re-evaluate the movie, nearly a quarter century after it first hit theaters. Directed by Michael Ritchie and starring, quite memorably, Chevy Chase, Fletch didn’t exactly burn up the box office. It was modestly successful during its initial run but quickly gained a substantial cult following. Many connoisseurs of mainstream ’80s comedies consider it a classic. The trouble is, Fletch hasn’t aged especially well. Ultimately the movie has more negative aspects than positive ones, making it difficult to recommend to anyone not already a fan.
The original novel by Gregory McDonald serves as the basis for Andrew Bergman’s screenplay. Normally I’m not one of those, ‘The book was so much better,’ type of moviegoers – mainly because I hardly ever read. McDonald’s book is tailor-made for people who don’t do a great deal of reading. Not because the writing isn’t high quality – it is – but because his style of prose is so cinematic to begin with. In novel form, the dual plot lines are flawlessly intertwined and dominated by dialogue. And I do mean tons of dialogue, to the point where it almost reads like a screenplay minus scene headers and character names. It’s engrossing and can be read at lightning speed, even by slower readers (such as myself). Ironically, as movie-ready as the book seems to be, these plots haven’t been adapted very well by Bergman.
For those who don’t know what those dual plot lines are, I will reveal as little as possible as the mysteries play out cleverly. Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher is a reporter spending some time under ‘deep cover’ as a drug-addicted beach bum. His investigation concerns the source of drugs on a beach frequented by teenagers. The dealer, played by George Wendt, sits on the beach all day, never seeming to pick up nor receive any product. Fletch is convincing enough in his addict guise to be approached by a rich businessman looking for someone to murder him. He claims to have cancer and wants to be put out of his misery, while still allowing his family to receive his life insurance. Fletch smells something rotten in this request, as the man doesn’t seem sick and no one close to him is aware of the supposed cancer.
Back and forth we go, as Fletch now tries to balance both of these investigations – much to the dismay of the newspaper he works for, which is only aware of his ‘drugs on the beach’ story. McDonald’s original story is very dry in its humor and much darker than what is portrayed in the movie. For instance, gone is the underage girlfriend Fletch doesn’t mind having sex with as part of his investigation. Over-the-top elements were substituted, apparently an attempt at making the story more palatable. As portrayed by Chase, Fletch is seen in a series of ever more elaborate disguises that stretch the level of credibility. Car chases and dream sequences have been added, all upping the silliness quotient. The zaniness seems increasingly forced as the movie’s 98 minutes trudge to their conclusion.
It isn’t all bad. The first half hour or so is as funny as any Chevy Chase vehicle. The one-liners come so fast that repeat viewing is definitely helpful. Chase actually captures, to a large degree, the laid-back casual dryness of Fletch as written in the novel. The funniest moments are usually the most subtle. However, Fletch becomes tiresome as the filmmakers feel the need to pile on more and more mayhem. The two main plotlines never seem to mesh in a satisfactory way, creating an unfortunate ‘who cares?’ aura that ultimately sinks the movie after a highly entertaining first act.
As far as the Blu-ray presentation is concerned, this isn’t a case study of how good an ’80s movie can look in the format. I saw the first standard DVD edition, which was grainy and overall kind of a mess. I know there was a reissue on DVD, but I never saw that version. The picture here looks good, but nothing special. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, as well as a serviceable 2.0 stereo mix. The DTS track, much like the high-def video, is far from reference quality. The are a few times, with louder dialogue or effects, that I detected some minor distortion. The dialogue isn’t as clear as it probably should be during noisier scenes. Harold Faltermeyer’s atrocious synth score (how many ’80s movies did that guy ruin?) is overbearing at times. All that said, considering its age and overall rank in the pantheon of so-called film classics (read: not very high), both audio and video are acceptable.
Anyone who has seen the previous Fletch Special Edition standard DVD will recognize the bonus materials as a direct port. I watched these for the first time in this non-anamorphically enhanced presentation and was not impressed. “Just Charge It To the Underhills” is a half hour making-of piece that rounds up many participants, with the exception of anyone who might have something truly interesting to say about it. We do not hear from Chevy Chase, nor director Michael Ritchie, nor author of the source material Gregory McDonald (now deceased, but alive and well when this piece was taped). A handful of minor cast members show up, mostly to say how funny they think the movie still is. There is a shorter feature concerning the various disguises Fletch wears throughout the movie, and this is mostly a waste of time too. The costumes and make-up are not at all detailed enough to really deserve closer examination.
Chevy Chase made some very funny movies long ago, and for roughly 30 hilarious minutes Fletch had me convinced it was among them. By the end of the movie, I was glad it was over.