If you're younger than I am, you may wonder who the heck Chevy Chase is and why a large number of movie fans seem to hold the guy's work in high esteem. Over the last ten years the former Saturday Night Live performer has appeared in a whole bunch of really awful movies, so you couldn't be blamed for wondering "Why does everyone seem to like this guy who starred in Snow Day, Orange County and Funny Money? If he's such a brilliant comedian, why's he doing voice-work for junk like Doogal and Karate Dog?" And those would be two very good questions. But to those movie freaks over the age of thirty, Chevy Chase is remembered (very) fondly for his work in stuff like Caddyshack, Three Amigos, the original Vacation, and a pair of very entertaining comedies in which he co-starred with Goldie Hawn. (OK, and Christmas Vacation, fine.)
Ah, and then there's Fletch, the 1985 Michael Ritchie flick that provided Mr. Chase with his best vehicle by far. If you've ever wondered what the appeal of Chevy Chase might be, give Fletch (not Fletch Lives) a rental and see what you think. Fletch might not be the funniest movie Chase ever worked on (that prize still goes to Caddyshack), but if you're looking for the movie that perfectly encapsulates the Chevy Chase vibe, then Fletch is the one you want. (To be honest, Chase only had two speeds: A) affably smug and sarcastic and B) amusingly obtuse and clueless. Here he employs the former and does a very fine job of it.)
Chase plays investigative journalist Irwin M. Fletcher, and as the movie opens our main character is hired to murder a man named Alan Stanwyk. Weird thing is, it's Stanwyk who's doing the hiring. Thus begins an enjoyably convoluted plot full of strange surprises and even stranger characters. Suffice to say that Fletch has to deal with corrupt cops, seaside drug dealers, wealthy hotties, probing doctors, and low-lifes on both ends of the class system. Funny thing is, Fletch could have been an aimless and plotless affair, one that was cobbled together only to showcase Chase's comedic skills, but director Michael Ritchie is careful to keep the story moving smoothly and he doles out a few chuckles to even the smallest side characters.
And while the flick is Chase's show all the way, there's little denying that the supporting cast is a big reason why Fletch is so well-remembered these days. Joe Don Baker, Tim Matheson, Kenneth Mars, Richard Libertini, George Wendt, M. Emmet Walsh and even a pre-stardom Geena Davis contribute to make Fletch a lot more interesting than just another Chevy Chase Show. (That's not to knock Chase's lead performance, but there's a lot to be said on the importance of a strong support staff.)
Based on the novels by Gregory McDonald, Fletch has gone on to become a true-blue favorite among many of my generation, and for good reason. It's a quick, smart, slick piece of comedy filmmaking that features a once-great comedian at the very top of his game. What exactly happened to that Chevy Chase, I'll never know.
Video: The DVD case sure seems proud of the "digitally remastered picture and 5.1 Surround Sound," and considering how lame the original Fletch DVD was, I'd agree that it's an improvement. The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is a step up from the previous release -- but it sure isn't what you'd call sterling, either. I realize that Fletch isn't supposed to look like Revenge of the Sith, but this is a pretty soft and grainy affair.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and DD 2.0 in English or Spanish. Optional subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French. Audio quality is just fine, with the non-stop gibberish and Harold Faltermeyer's energetic score coming through in fine balance.
Extras: Once again, Universal Home Video puts more effort into their insipid DVD names than they do their special feature. Although it's listed above as Fletch: Special Edition, the name you'll see on the case is Fletch: The "Jane Doe" Edition -- which makes no freakin' sense at all unless you actually remember the name of Irwin's newspaper column. (If you're going to get cute on us, why not call it Fletch: Can I Borrow Your Towel For a Sec? My Car Just Hit a Water Buffalo Edition?
But there seems to be a method to this madness: By NOT calling it a Special Edition, Uni can get away with presenting a really lame collection of extra features. Are you a big Fletch fan who'd love to hear an audio commentary or perhaps watch a few interviews with Chevy Chase? Well, sorry. You can't. The only semi-meaty supplement is 26-minute featurette entitled (get this) Just Charge It to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch. Here we get some interview segments with screenwriter Andrew Bergman, assistant director Wolfgang Glattes, editor Richard Harris, production designer Gordon Webb, producers Alan Greisman and Peter Douglas, and actors M. Emmet Walsh, Larry Flash Jenkins, George Wyner, Richard Libertini, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, and Tim Matheson. Universal must have wanted to do this supplement on the cheap, because not only are we missing Chevy Chase but the look of and the writing on the featurette are really poor. Still, it's fun to hear some of the old production stories -- and I appreciated the kind words said about director Michael Ritchie, who remains one of my favorite comedy directors.
From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises is another 5-minute chunk of interviews. Makeup artist Ken Chase and Hair Stylist Bunny Parker talk a bit about Fletch's crazy costumes and makeup work. Bergman, Greisman and a few of the actors throw in a few stories, too. Favorite Fletch Moments is just two and a half minutes of movie clips. Brilliant. We also get the original theatrical trailer, which is a nice inclusion, I suppose. So it's basically a half-hour of interviews with producers and supporting actors. Fine for the fans, but nothing you'll ever visit twice. No wonder this Special Edition chose to use an alias.
Fletch is a funny, breezy, fast-paced comedy-noir that's packed to the rafters with colorful characters and quotable quips. It features Chevy Chase at his absolute best, a jaunty (if outdated) score, a bunch of solid character actors, and a few clever twists in the screenplay. So if you're a fan of the flick and you don't own the original DVD, this platter is a no-brainer. If, however, you already have the bare-bones release, I wouldn't necessarily call this a double-dip that's worth the trip.