An adaptation hoping to reclaim its protagonist from the performer who became synonymous with him in the ’80s, Greg Mottola’s Confess, Fletch may surprise moviegoers who only know Irwin Maurice Fletcher as the affably cartoonish sleuth played by Chevy Chase. Not only are the goofy disguises and many of the quips gone in this version, new star Jon Hamm (successor to would-be Fletches ranging from Jasons Lee to Sudeikis) is barely even trying to make us laugh, setting aside those chops in favor of easygoing charm. While the more mystery/less mayhem approach honors Gregory Mcdonald’s series of Fletch novels, it results in a very ordinary film — especially decades after the books’ publication, when funny and funny-ish detectives are a dime a dozen. In an agreeable way, Confess plays like the feature-length pilot for an ’80s TV detective series — or, in the present tense, a much less ambitious American counterpart to the BBC’s string of long-form Sherlock Holmes mysteries starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
This film’s Fletch has already given up on journalism (or vice-versa), though he’s quick to inform strangers that he “was an investigative reporter of some repute.” He’s ostensibly researching a book on a painter of Old West subjects; but in Fletch’s world, doing one thing at a time is too simple. As we meet him, for instance, he’s about to have to start convincing cops he didn’t kill somebody.
The Bottom Line
An enjoyable but unexciting reboot.
Fletch is in a new romance with an Italian named Angela Di Grassi, or Andi (Lorenza Izzo), whose father, Count Di Grassi, has an enviable art collection. When an unknown party kidnaps the Count, demanding one of his Picassos as ransom, there’s just one problem: Somebody has also burgled the art.
Andi believes American art dealer/professor Ronald Horan (Kyle MacLachlan) might be able to help locate the missing painting. So Fletch flies to Boston, walks into the rich-guy house Andi has rented for him, and finds a corpse. He phones the cops while examining the fruit bowl his absent host left behind, and when investigators arrive, putters around as calmly as if they’re plumbers who’ve come to fix a leak.
As detectives Monroe and “Griz,” Roy Wood Jr. and Ayden Mayeri bring more life than usual to the cops-who-antagonize-our-hero roles. Wood is laconic, dryly noting the clues that point to Fletch’s guilt and questioning him like a man working a very long game, while his rookie partner does the actual stake-outs—and, pleasingly, proves nearly as clumsy as Chase’s Fletch was, bringing us some of that film’s slapstick fun.
As Fletch meets the germophobic, EDM-fanatic Harvard prof Horan, other mildly and less-mildly quirky characters enter the picture. Eve (Bridesmaids cowriter Annie Mumolo), the also-clumsy woman next door to Fletch’s rental, dishes gossip about the house’s owner; Fletch’s world-weary former editor Frank (John Slattery, in a minor Mad Men reunion) grouses about journalism while helping a bit with Fletch’s investigation. And then Andi’s step-mom shows up: As the Countess, a possible gold-digger who professes to believe her husband has already been killed, Marcia Gay Harden affects an entertainingly exaggerated Italian accent and mannerisms, making it somehow believable that, in the midst of her grief, she’d try to get her step-daughter’s new boyfriend to seduce her. Fletch won’t bite.
As the pieces start to click together, sometimes in misleading ways, viewers may wish Confess were more of a hangout film, exploring its promising interpersonal dynamics and accepting that we don’t care a whole lot about the story’s surfeit of interlocking mysteries. Skulking around yacht clubs and questioning self-styled lifestyle gurus — Lucy Punch drops in to school him hilariously about “bespoke” goods — Fletch gets in a couple of jabs at one-percenter privilege without actually leaving his rented townhouse, with its Paul Klees and Robert Motherwells on the wall, and moving to a Motel 6.
Hamm makes plenty of sense in this role, but Mottola and Zev Borow’s screenplay doesn’t totally convince us the character is series-worthy. He’s too comfortable, for one thing: In 2022, being unemployed as a middle-aged journalist is not conducive to relaxed charm, or relaxed anything. Maybe “researching a book” is just code for “trying to meet a rich European girlfriend.” In which case he’s on the right track, assuming Andi doesn’t wind up being involved in something nefarious. Either way, the story’s resolution offers the filmmakers a natural stopping point for this incarnation of Fletch, no sequel required. That doesn’t mean there won’t be one, but a post-Confess Fletch might well have a very different attitude than the one we see here.