Let me begin this review with a confession of my own: I couldn’t have been less enthusiastic about a reboot of the Fletch franchise. The two original films made such perfect use of Chevy Chase’s prickly sarcasm, it was difficult to imagine anyone matching them for weightless fun. Plus, Hollywood has spent so long strip-mining the 80s and 90s for unabashed nostalgia, it’s easy to be cynical when the latest cash grab gets heaved onto the screen. I don’t like to admit my own bias, but I walked into Confess, Fletch fully prepared to be disappointed.
Happily, this Fletch feast exceeds all expectations. Jon Hamm wisely avoids a full-on Chase impression, instead rebuilding the unflappable smart-ass from the ground up. Director Greg Mottola also harnesses the vibe of Gregory Mcdonald’s novels, while putting a distinctly modern spin on the plot. Simply put, this redo will satisfy series fans and noobs alike.
For those newcomers, Confess centers on I.M. “Fletch” Fletcher, a sardonic investigative reporter who’s recently retired. As the film begins, Fletch checks into a Boston Airbnb to find a welcome note, a bottle of wine, and a dead woman. Fletch immediately calls the cops, who flag him as the prime suspect. At the same time, Fletch figures all this for a frame-up. The lead detective (Roy Wood Jr.) has a reputation for meticulous success, while his assistant (Ayden Mayeri) takes an instant dislike to Fletch’s flippant demeanor.
The film then cuts to a month earlier, and shows us just how Fletch got into this pickle. As with all mystery protagonists, Fletch has a knack for stumbling right into danger. He meets-cute with Andy (Lorenza Izzo), the beautiful, resourceful daughter of an Italian count. Turns out, somebody’s made off with the count’s paintings, and might be trying to sell them for big profits. Fletch and Andy have themselves a roll in the hay, and then get to work tracking down the Picassos. His sleuthing ultimately leads him to Boston, where somebody wants to pin him as a murderer.
From that basic setup, Motola and company populate their film with a platoon of oddball characters, who in turn power the story’s quirky plot twists. These include Owen (John Behlmann), the pill-popping owner of the crime scene. Eve (Annie Mumolo) is Owen’s daffy, accident-prone neighbor, whose terrier has a trigger-happy bladder. Horan (Kyle MacLachlan) is an effete art professor–even his germophobia seems snobby. Then there’s the Countess (Marcia Gay Harden, deploying an accent that seems to cross Zsa Zsa Gabor with Chef Boyardee), Andy’s sketchy stepmom, who might be trying to pilfer the paintings for her own purposes. Finally, Frank (John Slattery) is Fletch’s old editor, a man who lives from one bottle of bourbon to the next.
All this adds up to a surprisingly engaging experience. This particular Fletch‘s biggest asset is Hamm, who brings a shambling self-confidence to the lead role. If Chase was a perfect fit for Fletch, Hamm makes the part perfect for him. He may not have Chase’s gift for deadpan wackiness, but Hamm has just enough comic timing to sell the film’s freewheeling jokes. Plus, he adds a couple things Chase never could, namely the Marlboro Man looks and gentle affability. (Chase definitely wore that stupid Lakers hat better, though.)
For all its strength, Confess, Fletch peters out in its final act. Simply put, the film’s mystery runs out of steam, and we get a few closing scenes too many. As you might guess, that means that Motola and Hamm carve a little time to set up a potential franchise. (Mcdonald cranked out a ton of those Fletch, after all.) I’ll be honest–I don’t hate that idea. Give Hamm a few more movies to refine his vision of the character and the filmmakers the leeway to craft a sharper mystery, and we might have something great on our hands. As is, chalk this new Fletch up as a very pleasant surprise.
98 min. R. In theaters and on demand now.