For decades now, they have been trying to make “Fletch” happen. The 1985 hit comedy starring Chevy Chase as a sarcastic investigative journalist entangled in a murder myster produced an uninspired sequel, 1989’s “Fletch Lives.” Then the franchise went silent for decades. In the interim, actors such as Ryan Reynolds and Jason Sudeikis have been attached to various attempted reboots. And why not? The source material is there; the original film is based on the first in a series of Fletch novels by Gregory Macdonald, and let’s face it: Smart, attractive, and sarcastic leading men never go out of style.
The producers of the long-awaited “Confess, Fletch” found a good one in Jon Hamm, and he’s fortunate to have found them. The actor has been wandering the cinematic wilderness ever since “Mad Men” concluded. As the new incarnation of I.M. Fletcher, Hamm wields his effortless charm, comic timing, and a multitude of funny faces to create a winningly conspiratorial relationship with the viewer. As Fletch through a labyrinthe murder plot, and as an interloper in various upper-crust worlds, Hamm embodies an easygoing vibe that set the film’s tone, discouraging the viewer from taking him or anything too seriously. Fletch just refuses to worry, even when he finds himself the target of a murder investigation.
The killing in question takes place in a Boston townhouse Fletch is renting while snooping into the theft of paintings from the father of his Italian girlfriend (Lorenza Izzo). The local police— Detective Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.), unamused by Fletch’s antics, and his young partner Griz (Ayden Mayeri), slightly more amused—naturally see Fletch as the primary suspect, but that’s nothing a little charm can’t fix. Fletch works to deflect the suspicions of the police, coming perilously close to actual obstruction of justice, while he sets about investigating both the murder and the theft.
To be clear, hardcore fans looking for a carbon copy of the original film are bound to be disappointed. Chevy Chase does not show up to pass the mantle to Hamm (thank goodness), and certain elements of the original character have been discarded. Fletch doesn’t wear disguises here, for example. Looking like Jon Hamm is enough to get him what he needs.
It’s all for the best. “Confess, Fletch” only goes as far as Hamm’s charm can take it, but it’s immensely pleasurable watching him weave his way in and out of trouble, armed only with a cool demeanor and killer line deliveries. “Could you read me my rights in Italian?” he asks, while being handcuffed for murder. “I’ve been working really hard at it.” How can you not love his confidence? As the plot continues turning and the tension ratchets higher with every twist, Hamm’s unflappable attitude becomes irresistible.
It’s a masterclass not in acting but in reacting. The real bounty in “Confess, Fletch” is in watching Fletch interact with the supporting cast of eccentrics, most of whom only show up for a scene or two but make outsized impressions as the kind of people you’d never want to meet. The most contemptible are the nouveau riche, a gemophobic art broker (Kyle McLaughlin) and Fletch’s girlfriend’s ribald stepmother (Marcia Gay Harden in a purposefully silly Italian accent), for which Fletch has particular contempt.
There’s also a wildly irresponsible neighbor (Annie Mumolo of “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”), as well as Fletch’s former editor (John Slattery), who was forced out of his Los Angeles paper, has taken refuge at a Boston tabloid, and is profanely unhappy about it. It’s an absolute kick to watch the two “Mad Men” veterans reunite—I would have taken more of this, in fact—and the actors’ shared history offers a shortcut to emotionality in a film that otherwise, wisely eschews it. The tapestry of characters and tone is expertly orchestrated by director Greg Mottola (“Adventureland,” “Superbad”), who has a knack for comedies with rich ensemble casts.
More to the point, it’s just a perfect role for Hamm, who became a star by playing a character who smothered his emotions in cool detachment. “Confess, Fletch” flips that archetype on its ear, using Hamm’s untapped comic timing and sheer charisma to make a maddeningly flippant character into an aspirational figure. He’s not a hero, but he makes “Fletch” happen.
You can stream Confess, Fletch starting September 16.