Confess, Fletch (2022)

Jon Hamm in “Confess, Fletch.”

Old dog Hamm good at playing ‘Fletch’

By Al Alexander

After many failed starts, Gregory Mcdonald’s iconic creation, Fletch, ends a 33-year absence from the big screen in a big way, with Jon Hamm marvelously usurping Chevy Chase as the titular wisecracking investigative reporter in “Confess, Fletch.” Not only does Hamm obscure the memory of Chase, he surpasses him in charm and savvy, as his Fletch transplants from L.A. to Boston to solve an international crime wave involving stolen masterpieces, kidnapping and murder.

Under the tutelage of director Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Adventureland”), Hamm delightfully reinvents Irwin Maurice Fletcher as a straight man sharp with a quip, a la Nick Charles in the “Thin Man” series. It stands in stark contrast to Chase’s clownish portrayal marked by ridiculous disguises and buffoonery. The result is a far more esoteric experience in which intelligence trumps slapstick without sacrificing an ounce of humor. It’s different, but certainly engaging, as it more accurately reflects the intended persona of the character at the heart of Mcdonald’s series of novels.

It results in less improv, but the script by Mottola and Zev Borow is so relentlessly smart and rich in sly social commentary that it does nothing to diminish the air of spontaneity in the crackling dialogue. The only point where the film comes close to lagging is during a prolonged bit involving Annie Mumolo (co-writer of “Bridesmaids”) as a flighty, pothead neighbor too bizarre to be believed.

The rest is pure joy, as Hamm, true to his character’s California roots, plays it low-key and laid-back, even when he’s credibly accused of murder. He gets his share of laughs, but he’s also generous enough to open the door to talented co-stars equally adept at delivering Mottola and Borow’s well-crafted zingers. This wide array of Boston-centric bon mots will be particularly appreciated by locals able to laugh at themselves and their perhaps unacknowledged belief that the entire world revolves around the “Hub of the Universe.” Cracks about the Celtics (“I’d be crying, too, if I were a Celtics fan”), Harvard and societal blue-bloods abound, each purposefully crafted to make you think as well as laugh.

It’s clear from the start that neither the writers nor Fletch care much for the city’s wealthy iconoclast, mocking it relentlessly via subtle digs and outright disdain. Yet, director of photography Sam Levy lavishes the screen with gorgeous money shots of the city, from Fletch’s townhouse in the South End, to Back Bay, to the Financial District to the bus depot at South Station. Then there’s the sprawling Oaks Estate along the Cohasset coast, where the showdown between Fletch and those who’d like to see him dead reaches its climax. But what’s up with Fletch catching an Uber first seen ducking into the westbound entrance to the Mass. Pike at Copley and next spotted in the Callahan Tunnel?

Like the previous two incarnations of “Fletch,” the plot is secondary to the clever wordplay between whip-smart characters persistently trying to one-up each other. In fact, the storyline — based on the second of Mcdonald’s nine “Fletch” novels — had me thoroughly confused. Something about Fletch falling for an Italian heiress, Andi (Lorenza Isso), whose father has been kidnapped and held ransom for a rare Picasso.

Among the suspects are an eccentric, germophobic Harvard art professor (Kyle MacLachlan), heavy into electronic dance music; the old man’s gold-digging new bride, the Countess De Grassi (a shamelessly emoting Marcia Gay Harden); and an art connoisseur (John Behlmann), renting Fletch his South End townhouse, outfitted with a lifeless body as a welcoming gift.

Natch, Fletch is the prime suspect. But he treats the suspicions of exasperated BPD detectives, Griz (Ayden Mayeri, fantastic) and Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.), with such nonchalance you can’t help but laugh. There will be numerous encounters between the trio over the course of the film’s quick, crisp 98 minutes, each brimming with banter so witty you’re left craving more.

Hamm’s old “Mad Men” buddy, John Slattery, also pops in for a cameo as Fletch’s curmudgeonly ex-editor. But it’s Hamm who gives this Fletch its heart and soul. Boldly strutting the streets of Boston in a Lakers cap, Hamm’s Fletch is the picture of confidence and chutzpah. He deadpans like nobody’s business. And what a treat it is to witness him jibing a haughty trophy wife (Lucy Punch) by asking her to define “bespoke,” a pretentious word for “customized.” She struggles mightily with a response (“It beteaches us …,” she eventually replies.), exposing her concealed ignorance and bogus superiority in the process.

It’s prime Fletch, and the casual breeziness Hamm brings fits the character almost as snuggly as the unrepentant arrogance suited Don Draper on “Mad Men.” But unlike Don, who was anal to the nth degree, Fletch is a guy oozing so much personality, you are smitten from the start. You’re also left hoping this isn’t the last we hear from the man who prides in passing himself off as “Mike” Wahlberg. You know, “Mikey Mike”? We shall see. But please, don’t make us wait another 33 years.

Movie review

Confess, Fletch

Rating: R for drug use, some sexual content, language

Cast: Jon Hamm, Marcia Gay Harden, Roy Wood Jr., Ayden Mayeri, Annie Mumolo, Lorenza Isso and Kyle MacLachlan.

Director: Greg Mottola

Writers: Greg Mottola and Zev Borow

Runtime: 98 minutes

Where: On Showtime

Grade: B

Leave a Reply