Year: 1985
Studio: Universal
Director: Michael Ritchie
Writer: Andrew Bergman
Cast: Chevy Chase, Joe Don Baker, Tim Matheson, M Emmet Walsh, George Wendt, Geena Davis, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I have a really good friend who loves this movie to the extent it's probably one of his favourite comedies. My own entry into the Fletch franchise was the 1989 sequel Fletch Lives (my girlfriend's mother won an unlimited double movie pass in a competition. She gave it us knowing she'd never use it and going to so many movies after work in the CBD of Sydney at the end of the week was one of the formative experiences that made me the film lover I am today – this was the first movie we used it for).

That film was fine enough but nothing too outstanding as either a comedy or a crime mystery, so I expected it to be a lazy step down from a much better original movie. For some reason Fletch bypassed me when it was out and it was decades later before I finally saw it. It's as classic an exmple of how the memory we carry from a movie we love at the time can stay with us no matter how shoddy or lacklustre it is – both words I'd use to describe Fletch.

Since learning about what went on behind the scenes in Hollywood I know a lot of people think Chase was wooed away from his Saturday Night Live reknown too early by the promise of fame, girls and a particular... er... habit that cost a lot of money. He might have been talented enough as a comedy performer, but he was awful at picking scripts.

That said, there isn't a lot in his entire back catalogue that convinces me he was any sort of comic genius either. In the two movies I love from his ouvre (The Three Amigos and Spies Like Us), he's almost totally reactive, playing the good natured bumbling clown who's only funny in response to circumstances and other characters. Here it's like he's convinced he should be playing the heroic straight man, the script only giving him occasional scenes and vignettes (usually the disguises) to remind us that he's supposed to be hilarious.

Add to all that the pretty cheap production and it doesn't add up to very much. If this was the creme de la dreme of Hollywood comedy in the mid 80s it was no wonder Back to the Future and Rambo: First Blood Part II were the biggest movies of the year.

He plays Irwin 'Fletch' Fletcher, an LA Times reporter on the trail of a drug running industry along Santa Monica beach when a rich industrialist approaches him one day with an unbelievable offer – come to the guy's house on an appointed night, take possession of a gun and kill him. The guy, who's dying of cancer, wants the insurance money for his wife and needs his death to look like murder.

But Fletch starts digging and not only is the guy healthy as an ox, he's connected to a very valuable piece of land in rural Utah. Fletch has already trodden on the toes of some senior local cops because of his impending article on the beachside drug ring, but when they turn out to be mixed up with the wealthy industrialist and whatever plot he's cooking up as well, things turn a lot more dangerous.

It's less a plot as it is an excuse to showcase Chase doing what everyone loved him in SNL for – costumes and characters. The rest of the time he's a fairly bland straight guy who elicits almost no laughs beyond a mere smirk at some of his hijinks (the dream of him being a basketball player, for instance).

Maybe you had to be there at the time and be swept up in the popularity of the movement. With a couple of decades of hindsight, the cracks have widened considerably.

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