Hamm’s unbuttoned ballbusting nice-guy vibe suits Fletch well in Boston
I know that I was not alone in seriously anticipating the new Fletch movie with Jon Hamm, but I was still just one of four fanatics at the showing I selected on opening day. Among that cadre, I was the only person sporting a Lakers jersey with the name FLETCH embroidered on the back.
The contemporary play on the 1975 Gregory McDonald crime novel Confess, Fletch won’t likely be one of the season’s blockbusters. Nevertheless, it scores on so many damn levels—from solid writing and loads of laughable moments to the current spin screenwriter-adapters Zev Borow and director Greg Mottola put on the already clever book without gutting the integrity of the original work—that I truly hope it hits loudly enough to trigger yet another new installment of the seminal yet somewhat slept-on Fletch franchise.
I would provide more background, but sadly I’m too cynical to think that anyone who didn’t already grow up on the 1985 hit Fletch with Chevy Chase would consider the reboot, let alone read a review of the film. I’ll just note that my initial reaction to hearing that Hamm was tapped to play the wiseass pretty-boy reporter so perfectly portrayed by Chase in the first movie as well as the 1989 follow-up Fletch Lives was probably similar to what most people familiar with the character and his comedic chops conceded: if anyone can do it, then Hamm’s the man, we collectively figured.
I first got into reading the Fletch books about five years ago after my 500th or so viewing of the OG flicks. How, I wondered, could this dialogue possibly come from a book? The screenplay seemed to have been written explicitly for Chase, as if icon Andrew Bergman, who handled the first Fletch, took a dry source and dumped sarcastic sauce all over it. As I came to learn, though, while Chase brought brilliant improvisational wit, the foundational piece—McDonald’s handsome mocking alpha-male barefoot gumshoe archetype—is the most important factor in the Fletch equation.
Hamm, of course, has too much self respect to impersonate Chase, who made a caricature out of McDonald’s Fletch. Instead, the Mad Men star ditches the impressions and (most of) Chase’s famous phony monikers for a more straightforward interpretation. The unbuttoned ballbusting nice-guy vibe suits him quite well in Massachusetts, too, where Fletch shows up to retrieve millions of dollars worth of ancestral paintings stolen from the father of his Italian party-girl fiancé Angela, played with passion by Lorenza Izzo. In navigating Greater Boston, which is represented accurately enough in exteriors as well as by a mix of characters who would actually live here (and who thankfully don’t all have thick New England accents), the fun comes in how Hamm’s Fletch has to talk his way around multiple hurdles, starting with the dead woman he finds on the floor of his South End rental.
One disappointment going into Confess, Fletch was knowing that they scrapped the legendary nemesis Detective Francis Xavier Flynn, a McDonald character who is the star of several of his own books. It didn’t take long for me to turn around on this woe though, since it opens up a lane for comedian Roy Wood Jr. of the Daily Show w/ Trevor Noah, whose believable reluctant partnership with Hamm to solve the crime that Fletch is accused of committing carries the movie forward. Instead of the off-the-boat methodical Columbo-type investigator in the book, we get Wood’s Detective “Slow-Mo” Monroe, a similarly competent catcher of criminals who makes for a much funnier foil than the tea-sipping Flynn would have.
Does it all sound extremely confusing? Good, it’s supposed to be. When Confess, Fletch accelerates, it’s as quick and charming as the 1985 cult classic Clue. All throughout, it’s a throwback to a certain period of whodunit mysteries magnificently upgraded for 2022.
I’m sure that every fan and critic who clicks keys about this movie will acknowledge that it ultimately wins on the strength of supporting characters and cameos—from Mass comic Eugene Mirman, who plays a small but esoterically heroic local role as a chiacchierone security guard who stans Peter Wolf, to Annie Mumolo, who steals the show as the familiar dog-owning neighbor who drinks too much that every person who has ever rented an apartment has lived next to at least once. Still, the roster is worth recognizing, since it’s something new for Fletch flicks, and since more outstanding efforts like these could keep the franchise running beyond this one successful sequel.
It’s taken years to get to this point, with rumored treatments by the likes of Kevin Smith haunting the small but presumably now growing Fletch aficionado community before news of the Hamm resurrection finally surfaced. I’m not exactly sure who besides me they made this latest volume for, but I hope more people are streaming it at home than joined me for its limited theater release. There are still at least six more Fletch books that would kill on screen, starting with Fletch’s Fortune which the last scene of this one is primed to plug into. As phenomenal as Hamm was in the role, he’s already pushing the age limit for how old Fletch can feasibly be, and it would be a shame to wait another 30 years and have to find another replacement to chase his performance.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.