I love good old-fashioned private eye stories. As a kid I watched The Rockford Files on Friday nights with my dad. It was old school appointment viewing in our house. I’ve always liked the narrative challenge of a protagonist who must investigate a crime or murder without having search warrants and crime labs to back up his or her efforts. Private eye tales become less about police procedure and more about human nature. In a P.I.’s world, necessity becomes the mother of invention and (usually) story-telling creativity.
In 1985, Chevy Chase starred in Fletch, an adaptation (of sorts) of the 1974 private eye novel from Gregory McDonald. As you might expect from Chevy Chase, comedy took center stage. His brand of I.M. Fletcher had the wise-cracking P.I. crossing way over the line into slapstick territory, letting the mystery play a distant second fiddle to Chase’s pratfalls and silly wordplay. It’s one of my favorite comedies of the 80’s, but it’s not much of a crime film.
After the ill-advised 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, also starring Chevy Chase, the character disappeared from the silver screen for over thirty years. This Friday brings the return of Irwin Maurice Fletcher in the form of Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch. The hallmark Fletch traits and quirks are present and accounted for: Los Angeles Lakers fandom, disdain for authority, snarky dialogue and an affection for wearing baseball caps. Gone are the Chevy Chase physical comedy and the silly tone of the 1985 film, leaving a more accurate rendering of Gregory McDonald’s private eye creation.
Although the film is set in 2022, Fletch lives in anachronistic times where art theft and forgery are lucrative forms of criminal activity, newspaper reporters have big offices in corporate high rises, cops are willing to let a civilian intrude incessantly in their investigation without any real consequences and journalists/private eyes hang out in hotel bars with people called The Countess. However, much like a vintage episode of The Rockford Files, these are the kinds of old school private eye tropes I love. This really isn’t nitpicking, but rather letting you know what kind of world this film occupies.
In the opening moments of Confess, Fletch, our P.I. returns to Boston from a trip to Europe to find a dead woman in the townhouse he’s leasing. He’s immediately the Number One Suspect in her death and on the bad side of Detective “Slo-Mo” Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.). Fletch is in Boston to track down some stolen art that belongs to his girlfriend’s father. Is the murdered woman in his apartment a coincidence? Or is this someone’s attempt to derail Fletch’s search for the missing paintings? You can guess the opinion of law enforcement from the title of the film.
As with most private eye stories, Confess, Fletch gets a bit convoluted in its third act and has a few too many plot twists, but the film is such breezy fun that I had no problem forgiving it for trying a bit too hard to keep the audience guessing to the very end. Jon Hamm is perfection as the wise-cracking P.I.. Anyone who is surprised by his ability to sell a double take or sight gag clearly hasn’t seen him in Bridesmaids, Tag and the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. He’s equally at home in a drama or a comedy, and Confess, Fletch is a hybrid of the two.
Confess, Fletch finds the right tone for a private eye film, and that’s more than half the battle when it comes to cinematic adaptations of this genre. It’s adult, but not seedy. It has moments of violence, but with minimal gore. It’s snarky, but not silly. It’s a crime film, but not too gritty. It knows what it’s trying to be and nails it.
For the individual viewer, it comes down to one question: Do you like what this film is trying to be? If you’re not a big fan of the private eye genre, you should look elsewhere. If you are a fan, it definitely worked for me. Hopefully it will for you, too.
Confess, Fletch hits select theaters and Video on Demand (VOD) on Friday, September 16, 2022.