Review: Jon Hamm Leans Into Comedy for Confess, Fletch, a Funny, Charming Take on the Classic Character
The world has been threatening to make a new Fletch movie (based on the comical mystery novels by Gregory McDonald) for many decades now (I remember Kevin Smith had one in some stage of development for quite a while), but now, thanks to actor Jon Hamm’s passion for the character, Confess, Fletch (the title of the second novel) has finally been made and it’s a scream. Adapted (with Zev Borow) and directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, Keeping Up with the Joneses, also with Hamm), the first Fletch movie since Fletch (1985) and Fletch Lives (1989), both with Chevy Chase in the titular role, this take on the character finds Hamm in a role he seems born to inhabit. His Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher is charming, knowingly handsome, intelligent, impulsive and quick-witted—a combination that makes it easy for him to talk his way into places he needs to get into but also gets him into more trouble than necessary.
Opting not to make this a period piece, Confess, Fletch finds Fletch dating an Italian woman named Angela (Lorenza Izzo), whose wealthy father is kidnapped at around the same time some of her family’s priceless paintings are stolen. In fact, the kidnappers want one rare Picasso as ransom, so former investigative reporter Fletch decides to return to Boston from Italy to help find the painting and in turn, Angela’s father. Her countess stepmother (Marcia Gay Harden, with a ridiculous accent and clearly having a blast with it) believes her husband is already dead and is frustrated that getting to his money is taking so long, making her one of many suspects. But like most mystery movies, the mystery itself is simply an excuse to be placed in the presence of some many wonderfully funny characters, especially Fletch, who arrives at his rented apartment only to find the dead body of a recently killed young woman in it.
The great Roy Wood Jr. arrives on the scene as the investigating officer, Detective Monroe, along with his feisty younger sidekick Griz (Ayden Mayeri, whose dedication to professionalism is constantly undone by Fletch’s disarming personality). Fletch wants to help with the investigation, but his being a primary suspect makes that problematic. There are several reasons this movie works so well, chief among them being that every character gets at least one moment that allows us to understand what makes them tick just a little better. Monroe’s nickname on the force is “Slo-Mo,” because he takes so long to solve cases, but the point is that he always solves them eventually, so we tend to trust his judgment when he expresses thoughts about the way the murder case is going. But there are so many mysteries to solve here, Hamm is often juggling many leads and shaking more tails than we can count.
Fletch’s trademark ability to make up identities on the spot is still in fine effect, with him spinning yarns complete with a new name, backstory, and reason for needing to get where he’s trying to go. Confess, Fletch also features a host of talented supporting characters, including germ-freak art dealer Horan (Kyle MacLachlan), whose shady behavior makes us believe from the second he comes on screen that he definitely has something to do with the art theft; Annie Mumolo plays weirdo neighbor Eve, who had access to the apartment where the dead woman was found; Eugene Mirman is briefly on hand as the chatty security guard at a yacht club where a great deal of the action takes place; and Hamm’s “Mad Men” co-star John Slattery shows up as Fletch’s former newspaper editor. Their scenes alone are worth the price of admission, but thankfully, the whole movie is as good as those scenes.
Director Mottola’s films all tend to be very funny, thanks to an onslaught of jokes being hurled at us from every direction. But with Confess, Fletch, he opts for something slightly more subtle and trusts his actors to deliver layered performances while still allowing for the eccentricities of the characters. The film has personality as well as solid humor, and it makes the whole experience of watching it so much more fulfilling and, I’m guessing, re-watchable. Anyone who has ever seen Hamm host SNL or show up on series like “30 Rock" knows he’s a gifted comedic actor with the face of a leading man. It’s disarming at first, but once you realize that the tone is going to result in big laughs and smart plotting, you don’t really have any other choice than to sit back and enjoy the journey. The hope, one assumes, is that Hamm can turn this into a series of films; at least that’s my hope.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.