Fletch: the single greatest comedy of the '80s, and if you're shaking your head no, then you're wrong. You don't review a flick like this -- you quote it. A lot.
|See, Fletch hates Tommy Lasorda.
"I didn't know you knew the Underhills."
"Yeah, well...I saved his life during the war."
"You were in the war...?"
"No, he was. I got him out."
Don't call him Irwin. Fletch (Chevy Chase) is a snarky investigative newspaper reporter out in La-la-land -- and, um, I mean he does investigate reporting, not that he investigates newspapers -- and his current gig sends him bumming around the beach posing as a strung-out junkie to figure out where all that white powder's coming from. A sharply dressed vee-pee type strolls up to Fletch and pulls him aside. His name is Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), he says, and blissfully unaware who it is he's chatting up, he offers Fletch fifty large to murder him.
"Look at her! Would you look at her?!? She looks like a hooker! Could you love someone who looked like that?!?"
"What are you talking about? Of course not! Five...ten minutes tops, maybe."
Okay, Fletch's spider-sense starts tingling, and after being handed some sob story about bone cancer, an insurance payout, and a posh, all-expense paid trip to Rio, he knows he's kneedeep in a story. 'Course, Fletch being an investigative reporter and all, he doesn't just knock on doors or poke away at a phone for hours on end. He digs into Stanwyk's story through a series of cacklingly outta-left-field disguises and nom-de-whatevers, busting into a real estate office (this is the dog that tried to bite me), being dragged into an autopsy while trying to swipe some confidential medical records, and falling for Stanwyk's foxy, impossibly wealthy, big-'80s-haired wife Gail (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson). ...and if you've caught Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or thumbed through any yellowing pulp detective novel ever, well...y'know what happens when there are two cases being juggled at the same time...
"Now, how long have you been having these pains, Mr. Barber?"
"Yeah, but not right next to each other. I thought that's what you meant."
"Isn't there a children's book about an elephant named Babar?"
"I don't know. I don't have any."
"No elephant books."
Actually, I'll keep rolling with that nod to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Both flicks have an
obsession with deadpan comedy and deft wordplay, and even with their skewed senses of humor, they don't shrug off the underlying mysteries-du-jour. The lazy route would've been to dream up a laundry list of ridiculous disguises and goofy backstories, wind Chevy Chase up like those chattering teeth thingies at the dollar store, and toss in some sort of completely incidental, paint-by-numbers plot after the fact to string it all together. Fletch takes its story every bit as seriously as its approach to comedy, and as manically funny and inhumanly quotable as damn near every line of dialogue is, the humor never stomps all over the mystery. Hell, drain away the color and play it straight, and Fletch could've been played pretty damn well as a slice of '40s noir; it's that sharply written a detective story.
|It's all ball bearings these days.
"I'm a friend of Alan's. I'm John."
"Oh, John! John who?"
"That's a beautiful name."
"That's an odd combination."
"So were my parents."
Fletch doesn't really lean on slapstick as a crutch, and instead of going for elaborate, cartoonishly over-the-top cavalcade of comedy setpieces, the flick keeps it pretty low-key. It's all about Chevy Chase's smarmy, sarcastic, deadpan delivery, and its sense of humor is woven in really tightly with the detective story. Only Fletch dreaming about taking the reins as a power forward for the Lakers -- complete with an afro that'd make Sweet Lou Dunbar jealous -- seems kinda gratuitous, and even then, it scores a laugh, so who cares? Even the quasi-legendary disguises and aliases that Fletch tears through never come across as some sort of schticky gimmick, and Chase usually resists the temptation to ham it up when he's all dolled up like that. Fletch -- y'know, both the flick and the character -- sport the same unwavering, swaggering confidence. They both know they don't have to flail around or pander to the lowest common whatever to get the job done, and that's a colossal part of their charm; when you're that good, you can just let it roll.
"You ordered lunch to my room."
"Well, I knew that's where my mouth would be."
"Are you always this forward?"
"Only with wet, married women."
I've torn through Fletch eight hojillion times (give or take a something-ending-in-illion), and it holds up every bit as well now as it did back when I first caught the flick on cable a lifetime ago. It's the best thing Chevy Chase has ever done -- and for the guy who headed up Vacation and Caddyshack, that's saying somethin' -- and I'd point to it without blinking twice as the single best comedy of the 1980s. Recommended. I'd have slapped on something way giddier in bold and italics if Fletch had scored the more decked-out special edition it really deserves.
I don't have the special edition from a couple years back handy to compare, but this Blu-ray disc looks a heckuva lot better than the first anamorphic widescreen DVD that Universal hammered out all the way back in 1998. Still, like a big stack of other '80s comedies, Fletch is kinda soft and grainy, and the 1.85:1 image isn't exactly overflowing with fine detail. Contrast looks pretty flat too, and its colors are generally spot-on but frequently come across as kinda drab. The smart money says you're not gonna grab a twenty five year old comedy off the shelf to show off your overpriced home theater rig anyway, though, so even if Fletch doesn't rank any higher than okay, it's still good enough.
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Fletch's lossless soundtrack piles on all the right specs -- it's packing a 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix -- but even with all those bullet points, it's awfully mediocre. Really, only Harold Faltermeyer's awesome synthpop score spreads out to fill the other channels. Other than that...? It's pretty much monaural. Even a frantic car chase complete with a bunch of wrecks and a cop's cruiser flipping over aren't reinforced in the surrounds, and I couldn't pick out any stereo imaging up front with other scattered effects. There's not all that much in the way of dynamic range, most of the effects are flat and muddled together, and even the snappy dialogue comes through sounding pretty dated.
There aren't any dubs or alternate soundtracks this time around, but subtitles are served up in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.
Okay, you know the whole thing about mileage varying, but me...? I really dug "Just Charge It to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch" (27 min.). It veers away from the standard issue talking-heads-plus-clips-from-the-flick formula, following DVD producer Jason Hillhouse in quippy, completely self-effacing faux-Fletch mode as he puts together the interviews for this retrospective. It's reasonably comprehensive, running through the original book series, casting, a handful of long-since-lost deleted scenes, and its enduring legacy and all that. Chevy Chase is M.I.A., and Michael Ritchie had passed away some years earlier, but a gaggle of producers and pretty much the entire supporting cast are interviewed. The highlights are really the random stories that are lobbed out, including a long and ultimately pointless trip to Rio with Universal picking up the tab all the way. "Just Charge It..." is a lot more fun and playful than just another stock making-of doc, and since it's the personalities that make this such a blast to watch in the first place, its left-of-center approach really works.
That's about it, though. "From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises" (5 min.) breezes through a few of the cast-'n-crew's favorite get-ups and touches briefly on the collaborative process in hammering them out. It's more "wow, my favorite disguise'd have to be ________" than anything all that insightful about the making of Fletch, so don't waltz in expecting much. Rounding out the extras are a three minute highlight reel and a battered 4x3 trailer. None of Fletch's extras are belted out in high-def.
The Final Word
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Fletch is the greatest comedy to claw its way outta the '80s, and if you're starting to rattle off a "...but what about...?" comeback, nope: you're wrong. It's kind of a drag that its release on Blu-ray is so underwhelming, but if you don't want to wait a few months for the sticker price to ease back to something more reasonable, you could always charge it to the Underhills. Recommended.