We get so few good movie comedies these days that sometimes it seems like Hollywood has forgotten how to make them. To date, there is exactly one traditional comedy among the 25 highest-grossing films of the year, the Sandra Bullock rom-com The lost city. Finances certainly play a role in this sad state of cinematic affairs; comedies don’t travel as well internationally as less dialogue-heavy genres, and audiences don’t seem to want to travel to theaters for anything other than big shows. So movie studios are making fewer and fewer comedies, and audiences starved for laughs are looking for them elsewhere.
I couldn’t even tell you the last time I laughed out loud at a new comedy movie – until I saw it Admit it, Fletch. That’s the bottom line here: This movie is fun. It didn’t blow me away with brilliant plot twists, cool cinematography or groundbreaking editing. But it made me smile for 98 minutes. It doesn’t happen that often lately.
Neither does it Fletch movie; this is the first new one with Gregory McDonald’s leading reporter Irwin Fletcher in over 30 years. Fletch was previously embodied by Chevy Chase in 1985’s entertaining Fletch and 1989 is not entertaining Fletch lives. This time he is portrayed by Jon Hamm, who has finally found a movie role that perfectly matches his on-screen talents. Fletch is a consummate bull – an artist who thinks he can quickly talk his way through any problem. Hamm doesn’t play the guy exactly like Chase did; he completely dials back the slapstick and underplays the character’s love of disguises and false identities. But Fletch’s sharp core still comes through loud and clear.
Hamm’s Fletch also doesn’t work as an investigative journalist, at least not anymore—though he still likes to introduce himself as a former newsman “of some repute.” As Admit it, Fletch begins, he arrives in Boston on the trail of some stolen paintings he has been hired to find on behalf of a wealthy Italian count. Fletch enters the townhouse he has rented for his trip and immediately stumbles upon a dead body. When the police arrive, he realizes that all the evidence has been arranged to point to him as the prime suspect. He will have to solve the case to stay out of jail.
The two interconnected mysteries bring Hamm’s deadly, seen-it-all Fletch into the orbit of some amusingly eccentric suspects, including a germophobic art dealer (Kyle MacLachlan) and the drunken dog lover who lives next door to Fletch’s rented townhouse (Annie Mumolo ). There is also the count’s beautiful daughter (Lorenza Izzo) and his gold-digging wife, played by an amusingly glammed up Marcia Gay Harden, who flirts with our hero in a hammy Italian accent. (“Confessssss, Flesh!” she coos.) Hamm even gets to reunite in a few scenes with his former Mad Men team player John Slatterywho plays Fletch’s former newspaper editor.
This is where I will admit that I didn’t always follow the exact details of Fletch’s investigation; if forced to summarize the plot, I doubt I could describe the exact sequence of events. It doesn’t bother me at all. Admit it, Fletch‘s mystery is complicated but not confusing; it’s always clear enough what’s going on to enjoy Fletch’s company as he bumbles around Boston. And anyway, I’d rather watch a movie where I have to work to follow characters who are smarter than me than follow dummies who do obvious, predictable things.
In addition to Harden, Hamm’s best scenes are included Roy Wood Jr. as the police detective assigned to investigate the murder in Fletch’s townhouse. Wood’s Inspector Monroe, nicknamed “Slowpoke” by colleagues due to his methodical methods, is completely unfazed by Fletch’s constant tricks; their conversations become wonderful exchanges of dryly funny dialogue. Poor Monroe, who is also trying to sleep train her son, spends an interrogation scene rocking an infant in a BabyBjorn while Fletch tries to give him advice on impregnating the baby. When those two were at it, I never wanted this movie to end.
Admit it, Fletch‘s tone is just right. All the actors are perfectly in sync with each other and with the script from Zev Borow and the director Greg Mottola, which is packed with one-liners and back-and-forth banter. The exuberant, unhinged energy of several sequences, including a climax where all the suspects meet in Fletch’s kitchen, reminded me of That Thin man. Other scenes reminded me of Robert Altman’s great deconstruction of detective fiction The long Goodbye; both undercut the usual rules of movie rubber shoes with laconic wit. If your new comic book mystery draws comparisons to these classics, you’re in pretty good shape.
After his years of complex work on Mad Men and his scene-stealing performances, mostly in supporting roles, in some of the few comedies Hollywood has produced in recent years, I’m not sure why it’s taken Hamm so long to find a vehicle that fits his combination of leading man looks and sardonic timing. Whatever the reason, Admit it, Fletch suits him perfectly. He has not hidden in interviews that he would like to do more Fletch movie. I, for one, would like to see them.
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