Murder mysteries with a sense of humor are back in vogue lately, with projects like Knives Out, Death on the Nile, and Only Murders in the Building enjoying success as their protagonists — sometimes brilliant, sometimes bumbling — navigate cases crowded with colorful suspects. Given all of that positive buzz, you don’t need a trail of clues to deduce why Confess, Fletch is reintroducing audiences to Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher, novelist Gregory Mcdonald’s snarky, crime-solving investigative journalist.
Directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) from a script he co-wrote with Zev Borow, and based on Mcdonald’s 1976 novel of the same name, Confess, Fletch casts Jon Hamm as the titular tenacious reporter, who finds himself embroiled in yet another murder while investigating an international art theft. Hamm takes over the role from Chevy Chase, who portrayed Fletcher in the 1985 film Fletch and its 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives.
Adaptations of Mcdonald’s Fletch novels have had a tough time making it to the screen over the last few decades, but Mottola and Hamm make Confess, Fletch well worth the wait. The film is a loose adaptation of the second book in the series, and finds Fletcher employed by a wealthy Italian heiress to track down her kidnapped father’s stolen art collection in order to provide the ransom for his return. As his investigation pulls him across the ocean from Italy to Boston, Fletcher soon becomes the leading suspect in a murder, and a person of interest for a dogged local police detective played by Roy Wood, Jr.
Although Confess, Fletch doesn’t lean into the comedy as heavily as earlier Fletch films, it still harks back to that time in the ’80s when audiences couldn’t get enough of comedians in murder mysteries. Chase’s ’80s-era Fletch followed on the heels of Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop, along with Billy Crystal’s Running Scared and a long list of other films that injected otherwise gritty investigative-thriller stories with an R-rated sense of humor from relentlessly funny lead actors.
Confess, Fletch delivers a similar experience, and showcases Hamm’s underrated comedy skills. He’s done well with humor when given the opportunity, and he seems perfectly comfortable playing the funniest guy in the room in Confess, Fletch.
Some of the potential culprits in the case include the kidnapped father’s new wife (Marcia Gay Harden), a germophobic art dealer (Kyle MacLachlan), and the affectionate heiress who hired him (Lorenza Izzo). The film also gets Hamm back together with his former Mad Men co-star John Slattery, who plays Fletcher’s gruff, hard-drinking former newspaper editor — a role memorably played by Richard Libertini in the 1980s films.
As with all good murder mysteries, the supporting ensemble in Confess, Fletch is a colorful, fascinating bunch, with each character bouncing off Hamm’s charismatic Fletcher in entertaining ways. Harden is particularly fun to watch as her character — an extravagant spender who prefers to be called “The Countess” — pushes her way into his private life and investigation.
Slattery and Hamm rekindle the great chemistry they had in Mad Men for the film, too, and the pair make the most out of the screen time they share. If Hamm’s version of Fletch finds its way to a sequel, Slattery would certainly be a welcome part of any returning cast.
At its heart, the underlying murder and stolen-art saga in Confess, Fletch is really just a reason to bring all of these eccentric characters into Fletcher’s orbit, so when the plot threads get a bit messy, it doesn’t slow the film down. Instead, Hamm’s charisma keeps the story churning forward, and doesn’t leave much time to ponder any confusing clues he comes across.
Like Chase in the original film, Hamm’s portrayal of Fletcher is so entertaining that the real payoff comes from watching him recklessly pinball his way through the investigation — more so than learning the identity of the killer, even.
Mcdonald’s crime-solving reporter is a timeless character, so it’s a shame it’s taken so long to bring Irwin M. Fletcher back to the screen. Still, with the treatment Mottola and Hamm have given him, it’s hard to complain about the where he’s ended up after countless earlier attempts at adaptations stalled along the way.
Confess, Fletch is the sort of uncomplicated, entertaining crime comedy that makes for a satisfying standalone viewing experience, and it delivers on all the potential of its talented cast and source material. If this is the beginning of a new Fletch franchise, I.M. Fletcher is off to a great start.
Directed by Greg Mottola, Confess Fletch premieres September 16 in theaters and via on-demand digital. It will premiere October 28 on Showtime.
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