Novelist Gregory Mcdonald’s crime-solving journalist Irwin M. Fletcher, better known as “Fletch,” has never been a very conventional hero. After Chevy Chase put his own bumbling, pratfall-filled spin on the character in 1985’s Fletch and its sequel, the film franchise fell into limbo for three decades as various filmmakers sought — unsuccessfully — to bring Fletch back to the big screen.
Fortunately, Fletch’s time in Hollywood purgatory ended this year when filmmaker Greg Mottola and Mad Men star Jon Hamm teamed up for Confess, Fletch, based on the second book of Mcdonald’s series. The film casts Hamm in the lead role, and has Fletch investigating an international art theft that — as things often do around him — turns out to be more complicated than it appears.
Mottola sat down with Digital Trends to discuss what sets Hamm’s version of Fletch apart from his predecessor’s, what makes I.M. Fletcher special, and whether we’ll see more Fletch stories down the road.
Digital Trends: The Fletch franchise post-Chevy Chase has had some trouble getting back to the screen. How did it find its way to you, or vice versa, to make this film happen?
Greg Mottola: Jon came to me about two years ago and said he was approached by Miramax. They said, “We have the rights to all the books but the first one. Would you ever be interested in playing Fletch?” And unbeknownst to them, when Jon saw the original Fletch as a young man, he went and found the books and read them. He was a broke teenager, so he stole them from Waldenbooks, according to him. He loved them, and he knew there was another way to do the films.
The first film was a Chevy Chase vehicle, and Chevy brought a lot of his style and brilliance to it. I love that movie. But Jon said to me, “I can’t do a Chevy Chase impersonation. That wouldn’t be good. I want to do it in a way that’s closer to the tone of the books.” I love detective stories and movies based on them, so I read the first five or six books, and I absolutely adored them.
How did you decide on Confess, Fletch as the story to adapt?
Jon had already thought Confess, Fletch made the most sense to do now, and even before I was involved, there was another writer, Zev Borow, adapting that one. Zev is a great writer, and turned in a script that was — as Jon put it — a great, hilarious movie … for Chevy Chase. Zev is a huge fan of the original and I think he couldn’t help but try to write Fletch 3. It’s not that it wasn’t good. It was very good. We just felt it wasn’t quite what we wanted to try to do.
So, because Zev hadn’t used as much of the book as I was hoping, I did a pass on it and went back to the book, and took characters and scenes and elements inspired by the book and put them back into the script. I also changed the tone of the comedy a bit, knowing Jon as I do and writing to to his dry sensibility and his ability to rely on his charm to get away with being a wiseass. That’s where it began.
Chevy Chase is such a tough act to follow. What aspects of the character did you focus on to make this version of Fletch special?
One of the things I absolutely love in Chevy’s version of Fletch is the sort of Marx Brothers-level chaos that he would bring to any situation. He would just baffle people so much they wouldn’t know how to respond. Those were things that weren’t necessarily in the book. Those were all his.
In Jon’s case, the character clearly has a moral code in some areas, and none whatsoever in other areas. It’s an interesting, unconventional approach. I always feel like he’s on the side of right, but he doesn’t mind committing a lot of wrong to get to justice or the truth or whatever. It’s kind of a wish-fulfillment thing, because we live in a time when there are so many bad people doing bad things, who seem to suffer no consequences. Fletch is a guy who’s like, “I’m not going to wait for the justice system or the police. I’m just going to go in there and get this done.”
But there’s a sense that he would never punch down. He only really screws with jerks. He only goes the extra step of messing with people if they’re white-privilege assholes or people with authority who don’t deserve it. For example, he respects Griz (Ayden Mayeri) and Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.), the two cops pursuing him through the movie, but he’ll lie to them constantly — even though he begrudgingly likes them. And I think they kind of like him, too.
What was it about Jon that fit so well with this version of the character?
Jon can be very dry. This character doesn’t have to be sentimental. He can have his positive feelings about people and express them in his own way, but he’s never dark. He’s not Don Draper. He doesn’t have a dark past. He’s not haunted. He doesn’t have damage. He just kind of goes through life in this breezy way and gets a kick out of people — or he kicks them. I think he’s having fun. I think he likes life.
Jon has played a lot of dark characters, and he’s also played a lot of comical characters that are quite silly. [Jon] makes Fletch feel like a real human being, in that he gives a dramatic performance in places, but [this version of Fletch] also lets Jon be funny in a sustained way, but in a very dry, more subtle way. As a fan of his and a friend, I was really excited to work on that with him.
The Confess, Fletch novel was published almost 50 years ago. When you were adapting it for this film, what went into bringing the story forward into a modern setting?
One of the things I really like about the books is that Greg McDonald sneaks social commentary into all of them. There are various things about sexual revolution in Confess, Fletch and social mores and other stuff that was funny and interesting and, I think, cutting-edge observations in that moment. But that was a different moment. So I thought, “Let’s sneak in just a little bit of commentary about the moment we live in now.”
For instance, I do address the fact that Jon, looking the way he does, can kind of move through the world of rich people — yacht clubs and high-end art galleries and expensive apartments — and they will see him as one of their own. Fletch doesn’t have the same value system as those people, but he’s happy to let them think he does, because that lets him get away with whatever he wants to get away with. And that is addressed in the film. His white privilege is called out by Roy Wood Jr.’s character, and in other places, too.
The Lucy Punch (Tatiana Tasserly) character, who’s a wealthy influencer, is a send-up of the idea that there are people on Instagram and in other places who are constantly telling everyone they can self-actualize — and all they need is the perfect house and designer clothing and the most expensive beauty products and vacations in the Caribbean. And it’s like, “Yeah, that’s great. You’re really rich. The people you’re selling to are really rich. But you make the rest of us feel bad, because we can’t do that.”
The fact that there’s no acknowledgment from people like that, that what they’re doing is trading in this world of wealth disparity, is something I feel like Fletch would actively dislike. So my strategy in that scene was to have Fletch come in and act even more awful than she is to confuse her. He acts even more shallow and despicable than she is, so she’s kind of lost and it throws her off.
The supporting cast in the film is amazing. Were there any performances that surprised you, maybe bringing something to a character you didn’t anticipate initially?
Yeah, I got super lucky with the cast. One of the ways we broke the Fletch curse is that we agreed to make it in very little time and with very little money. And we got all these great people to come and do it largely as favors to me and Jon.
Annie Mumolo’s equivalent character in the book is this lush who lives next to the apartment where the murder takes place. She’s a sad character who’s obviously in love with the guy who lives in the apartment. I wanted to keep aspects of that, but I didn’t think I had the space to create a real portrait of her as they do in the novel. I had to condense it, because she’s only going to get one big scene. So I wrote this person who I think we all know somebody like — a person who’s so disorganized and oblivious that it’s amazing they’re still alive.
And then Annie came in like a whirlwind, and she was so much the character in those moments that I was glad there was a fire marshal present, because I really thought she would burn down the set. She’s amazing and made that scene much funnier than what I had on the page.
There are so many more books in the Fletch series. Is there a chance we’ll see more of Jon as Fletch? Have you given any thought to where it could go next?
If I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to make another Fletch film, I would gladly do it again. And of course, it would be great if we had a little more time and a little more money. I’d probably try and make a more ambitious film visually, and build on this one. This was our first dip into the genre and it would be great to go further.
But it’s such a strange time now in movies. This film is getting this sort of hybrid, theatrical and on-demand and Showtime release. I think no one really knows what to do with movies right now. Honestly, I thought we would go straight to streaming, because it’s kind of a small film, but now some people can see it in a theater, which is nice. But honestly, I don’t care where you watch it, as long as you watch it. I’d prefer you don’t see it on your watch, though. That’s the one place I draw the line. If you have to watch it on your phone or iPad, so be it. As long as you watch it.
Directed by Greg Mottola, Confess Fletch is in theaters and available via on-demand digital now. It will premiere October 28 on Showtime.
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