Remember when Chevy Chase was funny?
Okay, so that might be a little mean, but when was the last time Mr. Chase had a hit comedy? In the first season of "Saturday Night Live", Chase made his name as the resident pratfall man and Weekend Update correspondent. Later, he'd star in some of the classic comedies of the 1980's, "Caddyshack", "National Lampoon's Vacation", "Three Amigos", and, of course, "Fletch." After such big hits, Chase would pump out stinkers like "Nothing But Trouble" and "Memoirs of an Invisible Man." A failed talk show would make Chase the butt of many jokes, rather than the teller. But, why dwell on all those bad memories when we still have "Fletch."
Based on a hit series of novels by Gregory McDonald, Chase steps into the role of investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher. Armed only with his wit, both quick and dry, Fletch tackles a variety of mysteries for his "Jane Doe" column. Here, Fletch poses as a beach bum in order to dig deeper into L.A.'s drug trade. While undercover, he's propositioned by the wealthy Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson of "Animal House" fame). Stanwyk is apparently dying of bone cancer and offers Fletch $50,000 to kill him. That way Fletch would be saving Stanwyk from a painful death and his family will still be able to collect on a handsome insurance settlement. Fletch accepts the proposal and begins to dig deeper into Stanwyk's background.
At the same time, Fletch is under the gun from his put-upon editor Frank Walker (Richard Libertini) who wants his story turned in and by crooked police chief Jerry Karlin (Joe Don Baker) to wants the story scrapped. Also, making appearances in the film are Geena Davis, in one of her earliest roles, as Fletch's assistant Larry, who provides him with info and back scratches. M. Emmet Walsh has a short, but memorable scene, as a doctor. Plus, George Wendt from "Cheers", Kenneth Mars, and the beautiful Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as Stanwyk's wife Gail.
It's a great supporting cast and everyone pulls off their roles with an underplayed manner, despite the wacky characters that inhabit this world. Having plenty of straight men works extremely well for Chase and his liberal usage of improv. Many of the film's most funniest and quotable lines were said on the fly by the talented comedian.
"Using the whole fist, Doc?"
"Can I borrow your towel for a sec? My car just hit a water buffalo."
"It's all ball bearings nowadays."
"I'll have a Bloody Mary, a steak sandwich, and...a steak sandwich."
"Just get me a glass of hot fat and bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia while you're out there.
The wisecracks and one-liners are just the tip of the iceberg, before you get to the numerous disguises and phony identities Fletch employs. There's Don Corleone, Harry S. Truman, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Babar, Mr. Poon, Dr. Rosenpenis, Ted Nugent, Gordon Liddy (complete with $0.49 false teeth from a novelty store), and, my personal favorite, John Cocktoastin.
"Fletch" has a definite film noir flavor to it, replete with seedy characters, a gorgeous dame, and a hero up to his neck in trouble. Yet, the film tackles that darker genre with a far more light-hearted approach. Fletch licks his lips and dives right into a pair of juicy mysteries full of twists and turns. And like any great detective story, he finds that both plot threads are inexplicably tied together.
The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Previously released on a barebones disc, "Fletch" returns in an all-new "Jane Doe Edition." Luckily, I have both DVDs on hand to compare the picture. The older release was a bit flat and the transfer suffered from faded colors, grain and notable specks. The remastered picture is definitely a step up. The colors are a lot brighter and the defects have been cleaned away.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with alternate Spanish and French dubbed language tracks. The new audio track is an improvement, although not a huge one, according to my ears. The bass is stronger on the new release and some scenes are more louder on this go-around.
Just Charge It to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch runs nearly half an hour and follows DVD Producer Jason Hillhouse pulling a Fletch as he puts together the interviews for this look back at "Fletch.". I give them credit for trying a different method of presentation, but it gets downright silly sometimes. Most of the cast and crew are present. Surprisingly, neither Gregory McDonald nor Chevy Chase are interviewed here or anywhere else on the DVD. Perhaps, they asked for too much money or they turned them down. Either way, it's very disappointing to not hear from either man. We also get a look at a pair of deleted scenes showing Fletch's further fantasies playing baseball and hockey. No footage is shown, except as still images.
From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises is a quick five minute featurette that discusses the make-up and various identities used by Chevy Chase.
Favorite Fletch Moments is a quick two and a half minute highlight reel of the film's funniest bits.
Rounding out the DVD are the theatrical trailer and skippable previews for other Universal releases. This new DVD also comes with a lenticular slipcase that sees Fletch morph into his assorted personas.
In his review, my DVD Town colleague John J. Puccio writes, "[Fletch] is a surprisingly gentle comedy, with little to offend younger viewers but a couple of relatively harmless, off-color remarks; nothing that might be censored for network TV. Yet it works without resorting to offensiveness, something that other, more-recent comedies could learn from."
I wholeheartedly agree. Chase doesn't resort to profanity or scatological humor to get a laugh. Just plenty of quotable dialogue and funny faces are enough to get you to crack a smile. Unlike other 80's films, "Fletch" has a timeless quality to it and doesn't suffer from too much of the outdated fashion and music of the time. If you own the older release, this upgrade is worth getting even though I find these elaborate ways to re-name the DVD completely ludicrous. I guess when almost everything is a Special or Deluxe Edition, you've gotta find ways to stand out. The extras aren't that involving, especially without the presence of Chase or McDonald, so the main reason to buy the new version would be for the improved picture and sound. And if you haven't seen "Fletch", it's a film that's undoubtedly worth checking out.