Based on a series of novels by author Gregory McDonald, the two Fletch films struck a cord in the eighties and while the sequel may not have had the same charm as the first one, both films have rightfully maintained a following over the years. Universal knows this and as such they've gone back to the well one more time and repacked the 'Jane Doe' edition of Fletch alongside their previous release of Fletch Lives and slapped a new cover on them, titling them together as The Fletch Collection. If you've already got the previous releases there's nothing new to see here aside from the cover art. If you don't already have these in your collection and are interested in adding them however...
When the film begins, a reporter named Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase), known to his friends as Fletch, is working undercover on a Los Angeles beach trying to figure out how a dealer named Fat Sam (George Wendt) is getting drugs and where he's getting them from. While strolling along the beach, he's approached by a millionaire named Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson) who takes him back to his mansion to talk. He offers Fletch $50,000.00 to murder him, telling him that he as terminal bone cancer and that by doing this he'll ensure that his family gets his substantial life insurance policy. Despite the fact that Fletch knows something strange is going on, he takes the offer.
With a few days to go before the main event, Fletch decides to investigate Stanwyk on his own. The more he uncovers about Stanwyk, the stranger things get until Fletch finds himself falling for Alan's wife, Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson). As the mystery unravels and Fletch's deadline fast approaches, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that goes right up to the chief of police (Joe Don Baker) that might be a lot tougher to crack open than he thinks, even with the help of a friendly co-worker (Gina Davis).
A really enjoyable blend of mystery and comedy, Fletch lets Chevy Chase do what he does best - act like a smart ass. Famous for the myriad of disguises that his character wears throughout the picture, Fletch worms his way in to one situation after another by using humorous disguises to gain entry to places he wouldn't normally be allowed into. An example or two: he dresses up like a redneck airplane repairman to gain entrance to Stanwyk's airplane hanger; he dresses up like a roller skating Hare Krishna to blend in on the beach; and he puts on tennis shorts and a white sweater to blend in at a posh racquet club. Of course, every time someone asks him who he is he just makes up a name, at one point using the names Harry S. Truman, Don Corleone, and Dr. Rosenrosen. Much of the comedy feels very spontaneous and while Chase was obviously working from a script, this aloof feeling works very well in the film's favor.
The mystery itself isn't all that rich. We know early on that there's something strange about Stanwyk and the story itself is a little bit predictable. That said, there's enough genuine comedy and fun sleuthing in the film that even if it doesn't take a Sherlock to at least partially figure out what's going on it's still a fun ride getting there.
Four years after the success of the first film, the producers decided that it was time for a sequel and thus was born Fletch Lives. This time around, Fletch quits his job at the newspaper because his late aunt has left him a plantation in Louisiana. After a dream sequence in which Fletch sees himself as a wealthy plantation owner surrounded by the people who he doesn't care (his ex-wife's lawyer, his boss) for acting as his servants he heads to the deep south where he finds that the plantation is in pretty dire shape.
Fletch decides to make the best of it and sleep with his late aunt's lawyer, Amanda Ray Ross (Patricia Kalember), but wakes up in the morning to find her dead in the bed next to him. Although he's a suspect in her death, Fletch manages to befriend a kindly old barrister named Hamilton 'Ham' Johnson (Hal Holbrook) who warns him of the slippery televangelist in the area, Jimmy Lee Farnsworth (R. Lee Ermy), who has been buying up land in the area to expand his religious theme park. When Fletch gets involved with Farnsworth's daughter, a real estate agent named Becky Culpepper (Julianne Phillips) who gives him an offer to sell his land for a quarter of a million dollars, he sets out to find out just who is after all the land in the area and why and what it all has to do with Amanda's death.
This time around, the entire film seems to be structured around the disguises rather than the character. Fletch isn't fleshed out or given nearly as much depth as he had in the first film and while it's still fun to watch Chase try on a bunch of different disguises and goof with people, it isn't as interesting as it was the first time around. Chase does a reasonably good job with the sub-par script and there are still some laugh out loud moments in the picture but the mystery angle doesn't hold our interest all that well and while the crooked televangelist sub-plot may have been topical in 1989, it now makes the film feel a little dated.
Fletch Lives does little, if anything, to expand on the continuity of the first film -a single reference to the Underhills and the reemergence of the slimy lawyer and his boss, Frank, are all we get and they're fleeting at that - and instead it feels like little more than ninety minutes of Chase doing some slapstick and character impersonation bits. In one scene he's an evangelical faith healer, in another scene he's the owner of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles while in yet another he's undercover as a Klansman. A decent supporting turn from Cleavon Little as the conveniently available plantation custodian. The end result is a perfectly watchable film, but also a perfectly disposable one that feels like more of a rehash of the original than a continuation or extension of the character.
Both Fletch and Fletch Lives are presented in their original 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen theatrical aspect ratio and while neither film looks amazing, they're both acceptable transfers. These two films both look like they were made in the eighties (as they should) and so they are a bit soft in some spots and they both tend to exhibit a bit more grain than you might expect. Color reproduction is decent across the board and black levels stay reasonably strong throughout. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts to complain about though many of the darker scenes in the first film lose a lot of detail and tend to look muddy. Neither film has been given a killer restoration or anything, but they're of reasonable quality.
Fletch has an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, a Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 Spanish mix, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo French mix with subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish and French. Fletch Lives contains English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks with subtitles provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The 5.1 mix on Fletch doesn't do much aside from spread the music out a little bit and provide a few directional effects here and there. Dialogue is pretty clean and clear throughout and there aren't any obvious problems with the mix. The English track on Fletch Lives has some funky levels in a couple of scenes and you may find yourself reaching for the remote when the music kicks in as it's considerably louder than the rest of the movie. Aside from that, it sounds alright. It's clear enough and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to note.
The extras for Fletch that appeared on the 'Jane Doe' edition have been carried over for this repackaging. Let's start with Just Charge I To The Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch which is a documentary that clocks in at just under half an hour in length. Here, DVD producer Jason Hillhouse plays a Fletch-like character cruising around Los Angeles compiling information on the making of the film in much the same way that Fletch would gather information for a story. Along the way we meet up with screenwriter Andrew Bergman, actor Tim Matheson and a few of the bit part players that make up the cast of the film. While it's reasonably interesting to watch once, there's a lot of unnecessary padding here and obviously a few key players are missing which makes this far from essential viewing.
From John Cocktoastin To Harry S. Truman: The Disguises is a quick five minute featurette that allows the cast and crew to talk about how the managed to make the disguises in the film work so well by mixing realism with 'on the cheap' tactics. It's not a particularly substantial piece but it offers a few interesting insights.
Rounding out the extras on Fletch are Favorite Fletch Moments (a bunch of clips from the film set to music), a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Universal properties (including one for HD-DVD that encourages consumers to 'future proof'), static menus and chapter selection.
Aside from static menus and chapter selection, Fletch Lives contains only the film's original theatrical trailer (in fullframe) and a single screen advertising other comedy DVDs available from Universal.
The slipcase packaging for this set is kind of neat - there's a cut out above Fletch's head with a wheel underneath. When you turn the wheel you can see him in one of four different disguises from the films.
There's nothing here that fans haven't already seen and those who already own the films can keep on moving. That said, if you don't already own the two films in the collection and want to nab them at a decent price then The Fletch Collection comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.