If you’re an adult of a certain age, when you hear the name “Fletch,” you immediately think of Chevy Chase. Across two films, Fletch (1985) and Fletch Lives (1989), audiences watched the fast-lipped investigative reporter find his way into and out of scrapes as he sought to uncover a mystery. Nearly 40 years later, the Gregory Mcdonald-created character returns to the big screen with a new actor in the role: the ever-versatile Jon Hamm (Baby Driver (2017); The A-Team (2010); Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015-2020)). Where Chase was the type of performer who applied a signature hapless everyman whether playing conman, father, golfer, or perpetual student, Hamm is a character actor, disappearing into the personage required for the role, even while exuding a certain undeniable charm. A role like Irwin Maurice Fletcher, a.k.a I. M. Fletcher, a.k.a. Fletch, requires someone whose ego is left at the door, enabling them to walk the highwire act that only a professional bullshitter can execute. In this adaptation of Mcdonald’s book Confess, Fletch, Fletch lives again, and it’s a confession you’re not going to want to miss.
Traveling from Italy to Boston in an effort to look into some stolen paintings, Fletch (Hamm) checks into the apartment his girlfriend Angela De Grassi (Lorenza Izzo) rented for him, discovering a dead body lying on the sitting room carpet. Considered the prime suspect for the crime by Inspector Morris Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and his partner Griz (Ayden Mayeri), Fletch decides to help out in the only way he can, by poking around. What’s the worst that could happen?
Moving forward, there will be no mention of or comparison to the source material as this novel is one of the Fletch series that I missed. Rather, this will be, in totality, focused on the film itself. In that vein, Confess is the very type of film that critics (for sure) have been lamenting the lack of: a solid and breezy mid-budget film. From the moment it starts until the literal end of the credits, Confess entertains, never losing the rhythm or charm of its titular character. Adapted by director/co-writer Greg Mottola (Superbad; The Newsroom) and co-writer Zev Borow (NBC’s Chuck), Confess beautifully wields the punchy dialogue that makes Mcdonald’s Fletch novels so fun within a story that somehow seems light and airy in execution despite becoming more and more complex with each new discovery/wrinkle. Based on their CVs, both Mottola and Borow have experience working with ensemble casts on programs or works that balance comedy with drama, skills which are necessary to make a Fletch story run at full steam.
As mentioned before, Hamm is perfectly suited to play Fletch, never quite losing the twinkle in his eye whether he’s gleefully screwing with Griz (Mayeri offers a real MVP performance as the receiver of most of Fletch’s antics), talking his way into a paint job (“What name did I tell you again?”), or finding himself on the receiving end of a gun after confirming who he is (“I mean, no I’m not. I always get that wrong.”). In less confident or capable hands, Fletch would be smarmy, indolent, and puerile. Yet, with someone like Hamm driving things, not only is Fletch a consummate underdog, he’s one that’s strangely always a step-ahead. Until the narrative needs him not to be, of course, but, even then, Hamm’s performance allows the audience to believe that Fletch possesses some measure of control amid the chaos, though he may (and thus we) not know it at the time.
As good as Hamm is, Confess wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without a supporting cast that’s about as game to get weird as Hamm is. Each one does their version of a silly-yet-grounded character that would be pure caricature in lesser hands. Izzo lead 2021’s excellent Women is Losers in a mostly straight role and, here, she gets to cut loose a bit as Fletch girlfriend who’s dealing with her own trauma that serves as the reason Fletch arrives in Boston when he does. That storyline dovetails smoothly into the murder, though it does linger in the background almost to the point that it seems more tertiary than secondary, and it’s Izzo’s performance which reminds us constantly of that urgency. Then there’s Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom) as Angela’s step-mother, Countess Sylvia De Grassi, whose line delivery of Fletch sounds like “Flesh,” telling you just about everything you need to know about how firmly Harden’s tongue is planted in her cheek as she plays the is-she-or-isn’t-she in it for the wealth step-mother that appears and disappears right when Fletch most desperately doesn’t need it. Of course, though Mcdonald fans may find it strange that Mottola and Borow would replace famed Boston Inspector Francis Xavier Flynn for Inspector Morris Monroe, actor/comedian Roy Wood Jr. brings a weight to the role that ensures the stalwart officer is just as narrowly focused and intelligent as his other-named literary counterpart.
The really weird thing is that Confess feels like a warm hug of a movie from the moment it starts, especially if you’ve seen the prior two Fletch films or read the books. If you know anything about the character, his super chill response to finding a dead body is not only comical due to Hamm’s unflappable delivery, it also does a great job of immediately setting down the rules that Fletch isn’t someone to get easily riled. He’s seen some things and survived it all. That Fletch handles it all with a bit of humor and sass is just icing on the cake for those who enjoy an acerbic wit. The whole film is like this, whether dealing with interpersonal or international intrigue, there’s a lightness to it all that just makes the whole affair feel like a soothing salve. But let’s say you don’t know anything about the character and Confess is your way in. From the performances and script to the editing and scoring, the whole affair is a holistic palliative for what ails. More than that, it demonstrates that one doesn’t need large bombastic set pieces, high kill counts, or CG sets in order to entertain. Sometimes it’s just a smartass trying to clear his name while solving a mystery or two.
In the words of this Fletch, “five stars.” (Well … almost.)
In theaters, on VOD, and digital September 16th, 2022.
For more information, head to Miramax’s Confess, Fletch webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.