"Have you heard the news making all the headlines/
Zooming via satellite?/
Have you heard the news coming through the grapevine?/
Fletch is working overti-i-i-ime."
Journey with me, if you will, back to a distant time. The year is 1985. Big hair and loud fashions are all the rage. 'Murder, She Wrote' is a top-rated show on TV, and 'The Dukes of Hazzard' just aired its final episode. In movie theaters, former 'Saturday Night Live' cast members can still draw a crowd. Chevy Chase is a really big star.
After a scene-stealing supporting role in 'Caddyshack' and a breakout lead in the blockbuster 'Vacation', Chase had cemented his status as a bona fide movie star. In 1985, he'd headline three major features, all of them top-20 hits for the year. The shine has dulled a bit on both 'European Vacation' and 'Spies Like Us' over the years, and Chase's star power fizzled out before the end of that decade. But 'Fletch' is still remembered fondly, and for good reason. The movie is an ideal vehicle for the comedian. It's been tailored to his strengths at delivering dry one-liners and physical slapstick, while paired with light-footed direction and a script that isn't too exceedingly dumb.
Very loosely based on a popular series of novels by Gregory McDonald, the movie stars Chase as Irwin Fletcher, investigative reporter for an L.A. newspaper. While working undercover as a drifter hanging out at the beach, Fletch is approached out of the blue by a wealthy man (Tim Matheson) who offers to pay him a huge sum of money to kill him. The man, Alan Stanwyk, is dying of cancer, you see, and would rather end it all quickly. He'd also like his hot young wife (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) to receive the sizable life insurance benefit that will only pay out if he's been murdered. Sensing that the story doesn't quite add up, Fletch agrees to the deal, but does some digging around into the man's life beforehand. As expected, he finds that the whole thing is a set-up, with Fletch intended as a patsy. Of even greater interest are the connections he uncovers between Stanwyk, a drug ring, and corrupt cops. This all sounds like the makings of a great article.
Whereas McDonald's novel was a real mystery, 'Fletch' the movie is primarily a Chevy Chase comedy that uses elements of the author's story to string its gags along. Fletch's investigation provides a convenient excuse for the actor to don a series of silly disguises and exercise his sarcastic sense of humor. Fortunately, he happens to do that incredibly well. The script by Andrew Bergman ('The Freshman') is loaded with hilarious banter, delivered at just the right pitch by Chase. The movie is very goofy, but doesn't devolve into the annoying mugging that would plague the star's later career. Fletch is a funny guy, because he's always the smartest person in the room, and he knows it. The movie knows it too, and never loses sight of the character's wit and intelligence.
Directed by Michael Ritchie ('The Bad News Bears'), the film is very much a product of its time. The style of the piece screams '80s throughout, right down to the cheesy synthesizer score by Harold Faltermeyer, which sounds more than a little bit like his music for 'Beverly Hills Cop'. The theme song is also hilariously awful, and I doubt intentionally so. More importantly, the movie has rather lackadaisical pacing, and is padded with a lot of scenes that serve little narrative purpose. Its sole action sequence, a blandly-staged car chase, could easily be excised with no real impact at all.
And yet, 'Fletch' is still a damn funny movie. Chevy Chase was in top form here, and the supporting cast (filled with familiar faces like George Wendt, M. Emmet Walsh, Joe Don Baker, and even Geena Davis in an early role) is game to play along. This film is essentially the pinnacle of Chase's career. Everything started spiraling downhill afterwards, including the inferior sequel that followed four years later.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Fletch' finally arrives on Blu-ray as a catch-up title from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The studio previously issued the movie as one of their final HD DVD releases back in 2008.
In most respects, 'Fletch' looks like a typical low-budget comedy from the '80s. The movie's photography is a bit drab and grainy. Colors appear accurate, if not overly vivid. The picture is bright and well-lit, but rarely visually striking. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer is presented in the movie's theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with tiny letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
Unfortunately, the blandness of the film's photography is only exacerbated by a mediocre film-to-video transfer that stems back to the Jane Doe Edition DVD released in 2007. The picture looks overly processed with only fair representation of fine object detail. Close-ups fare better than medium or wide shots. Artificial sharpening has been applied to compensate, and it gives the image a coarse texture. Grain looks very noisy, and edge ringing artifacts recur repeatedly throughout.
'Fletch' would likely never make for stunning high-def eye candy, but could have looked at least a little better than this with less mucking around. It's not a terrible disc. As far as 'Fletch' is concerned, the Blu-ray transfer (and I'm sure the comparable HD DVD, which I haven't seen) is the best the movie has ever looked on home video. Nevertheless, it's still disappointing.
I can't say that the audio is all that spectacular, either. 'Fletch' was originally recorded in Dolby Stereo. The Blu-ray has allegedly been remixed into 5.1 format. Don't go expecting much of any surround activity or bass, because you won't find either here. Some music bleed to the rear channels is about as aggressive as this mix gets. Of course, this is just an '80s comedy, so that's par for the course, and not inappropriate.
For Blu-ray, the audio has been encoded in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio codec. In practical terms, lossless encoding offers a soundtrack this dull no appreciable benefit over even the standard Dolby Digital on DVD. Harold Faltermeyer's score doesn't have a lot of range. Nor were his synthesizers even capable of the sort of sterling fidelity we expect from modern movie music. The score is clear enough, but set a little too loud in the mix compared to the dialogue. My wife kept complaining about the obnoxious volume swings.
Like the video, the Blu-ray's audio quality is adequate to get the job done, if not much more.
The Blu-ray carries over the meager assortment of bonus features from the Jane Doe Edition DVD released in 2007.
Is 'Fletch' a great movie? Probably not, but its humor has held up fairly well despite (or even due to) the picture's datedness. It still makes me laugh every time I watch it. That's a lot more than I can say for most Chevy Chase vehicles.
The Blu-ray is an uninspiring affair. Mediocre video and audio have been supplemented by meager bonus features. This may be the best that 'Fletch' has ever looked on home video, but this isn't a movie that requires great picture quality to work. Considering how often it still runs in broadcast rotation on cable, I don't know that I can recommend a purchase. But, if you're a fan of the movie, the disc is still at least worth a look.