It’s been 37 years since the first cinematic incarnation of Irwin Maurice “Fletch” Fletcher, the (former) investigative reporter protagonist of a series of mystery novels by Gregory Mcdonald. That film, “Fletch,” was a decidedly ‘80s affair, directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Chevy Chase as the wisecracking hero. Mcdonald thought Chase was a good fit, but in this Fletch fan’s mind, he was seriously miscast. After a tolerable debut and an unwatchable sequel called “Fletch Lives,” the character was mercifully retired from moviedom.
Now, I.M. Fletcher has been reincarnated for “Confess, Fletch,” an adaptation by director Greg Mottola (who shares a writing credit with Zev Borow) of Mcdonald’s 1976 novel of the same name. It is a decidedly 2022 affair, which means newly added references to Lyft (“five stars!” yells Fletch every time he gets out of a ride-share) and the absence of a catchy, synth-heavy banger of a theme song by Stephanie Mills. Fletch is also now embodied by a wisecracking Jon Hamm — also miscast (Bob Odenkirk would make a great Fletch) — who leans more naturally into the one-liners than Chase while exuding his usual mix of smarm and charm. He makes Fletch’s never-ending stream of B.S. and multiple false identities just barely convincing enough to stave off disbelief.
“Confess, Fletch” immediately drops the viewer into a crime scene. Housesitting for a guy named Owen (John Behlmann), Fletch awakens to find a murdered woman on the floor. He calls the non-emergency number for the cops because, in his estimation, “the emergency has already passed.” The Boston Five-O sends out homicide Detective Monroe (a funny Roy Wood Jr.) and his hapless trainee Griz (Ayden Mayeri). Monroe has been nicknamed “Slow-Mo Monroe” because it takes him forever to solve his crimes. But he does solve them eventually, and he thinks Fletch is guilty. The movie’s title becomes his rallying cry.
After this pre-credits sequence uses Jon Hamm’s bare feet as a comic device (they will be employed again in this capacity), the film flashes back a month to Rome. Fletch meets Angela (Lorenza Izzo), his soon-to-be girlfriend and a possible femme fatale. Her rich father, the Count, hired him to track down stolen artworks worth millions of dollars. Those paintings include a Picasso believed to have been lost. The Count remarried, and Angela believes his new wife, the Countess (Marcia Gay Harden), is a gold digger with murderous designs on her dad.
Her suspicions have merit. When the film jumps back to the present, Angela’s father has been kidnapped and the Countess is spreading rumors that he’s dead. The ransom is that Picasso, which Fletch has a lead on courtesy of germaphobic, EDM-loving art dealer, Horan (Kyle MacLachlan). Meanwhile, every clue Monroe and Griz uncover incriminates Fletch as the murderer, making it harder to keep him out of jail.
Comic mysteries like this are only as good as the quirky side characters they introduce. “Confess, Fletch” is overrun with them, giving it the feel of an R-rated episode of “The Rockford Files.” This is actually the film’s strength: It’s laidback goofball Hamm versus several actors having the time of their lives going as broad as the side of a barn. Some of them practically chew the side of the barn.
Leading the pack of go-for-broke supporting actors is Annie Mumolo (”Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”) as Owen’s stoner neighbor, Eve. Her scenes are so jaw-droppingly absurd they defy description. Her first scene with Fletch is screwball comedy heaven, full of fast-talking dialogue, violent physical comedy, gruesome kitchen injuries, and a tiny dog that pees like a racehorse when it’s hungry. Mumolo is so hilariously intense that the viewer fears for her safety.
Coming a close second is Gay Harden’s Countess. She shows up midway through the film wielding an outrageous accent. She calls Fletch “Flesh” and gets fresh with him at every turn. Fletch’s disgust at her advances veer perilously close to ageist mockery, but Gay Harden’s confidence makes him look silly for turning her down.
Also worth mentioning is John Slattery as Fletch’s grizzled former newspaper editor. He spends the film ensuring his dialogue earns the MPAA rating. This “Mad Men” reunion is far more entertaining than anything that series had to offer.
The solution to the mystery is appropriately convoluted, but that’s par for this course. The journey is always more entertaining than the destination, and this one’s a lot of fun.
Directed by Greg Mottola. Written by Mottola and Zev Borow. Starring Jon Hamm, Marcia Gay Harden, Kyle MacLachlan, John Slattery, Roy Wood Jr., Lorenza Izzo, John Behlmann, Ayden Mayeri, and Annie Mumolo. At AMC Boston Common 19, Regal Fenway, and suburban theaters. 98 minutes. R (strong language, mild violence, comic sexuality, and foot nudity).