Director Greg Mottola is known for coming-of-age stories like “Superbad” (2007) and “Adventureland” (2009), but he’s left gawky kids in the rearview with “Confess, Fletch,” now in theaters.
Jon Hamm stars as the unflappable Irwin Fletcher (a.k.a. Fletch), a self-described “former investigative reporter of some repute.” He’s in Boston on the hunt for stolen art when he gets stuck in a murder mystery in this adaptation of the 1976 novel by Gregory Mcdonald (a former reporter and editor for the Globe). Joining Hamm are Roy Wood Jr. as a detective who thinks Fletch is guilty, Marcia Gay Harden as a countess with a crazy accent, Kyle MacLachlan as an art dealer who blasts EDM, and John Slattery as Fletch’s former newspaper editor.
Over Zoom, Mottola talked about bringing the book to the big screen (he co-wrote the script), his appreciation for Chevy Chase, who starred in the original “Fletch” (1985) and its sequel “Fletch Lives” (1989), and why he’d rather not ride on the coattails of ′80s nostalgia.
Q. Talk about the book “Confess, Fletch” and how you decided to adapt it.
A. Jon came to me: “Would you ever be interested in doing a Fletch film?” I said, ‘Well, I have a lot of affection for the ‘Fletch’ movie, but I haven’t read the books.” So I went off and read about five or six, including “Confess, Fletch.” The character himself was this kind of great wish fulfillment — wouldn’t it be nice to walk through life saying whatever you want to people? He wants justice to prevail, but he has no problem breaking laws and lying and doing whatever it takes to get the answers. He doesn’t have a lot of faith in institutions or authority.
I could see the difference in the tone of the books from the Chevy Chase movies, and I thought, “Yeah, Jon would be really good at this version.” In the book, he’s described as very handsome, women find him attractive, but it allows him to charm people to get into places. Jon has these WASP-y good looks, and in the story he’s going to sneak into yacht clubs and upscale art galleries and rich people’s homes.
Q. Was it obvious from the start you were going to update the setting?
A. From a practical point of view, doing a period film was more expensive. What’s consistent in all of the Fletch books is Gregory Mcdonald enjoyed a certain amount of satire and social commentary. Some of it wouldn’t translate to now, so I enjoyed trying to find ways to make fun of influencer types and tone-deaf white privilege. It’s nice to sneak into entertainment a few thoughts about the world we live in.
Q. You have this character who’s somewhat iconic and people know through Chevy Chase. Is there, like, a Fletch factor?
A. He’s like the smartest guy in the room, except he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. The thing about Fletch in the book, and the way Jon played it, is he doesn’t care that he’s wrong. He’s not embarrassed. [He’s] amused by the human parade of insanity . . . a little more of a Cary Grant-type character. Detective movies are among some of my favorite films. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was played by, like, 15 different actors, most famously Humphrey Bogart and Elliott Gould. Even though there are some people who feel like only Chevy Chase can touch this role, that was 37 years ago. We kind of live in an endless loop of everything that’s happened since “Jaws.”
Q. Have you contacted Chevy Chase?
A. We haven’t. . . . I was extremely tempted to ask him to be in this [movie]. But ultimately, I thought that could lend itself to a slightly cheap nostalgia, riding on the coattails of someone else’s success. I thought our best chance of this being decent was to really just do our own thing. We did a few nods to the original.
Q. I’m sure everybody asks you about the time Esquire called you the “king of underrated movies.”
A. I haven’t been asked about that yet.
Q. In terms of your earlier films, is there a movie you wish you could give a boost — maybe it didn’t get the attention you wished at the time?
A. The movie I made with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, “Paul” (2011), which was quite silly. There’s two English guys driving around the United States on a road trip with an alien voiced by Seth Rogen. It was a big hit in the UK, and it kind of tanked here.
It’s a very sweet movie about friendship that got a little snubbed by the kind of fanboy think tank here in America, because it wasn’t obscure enough in its references. There was a lot of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg love in it. It seemed to play better for people who just really like those movies, but it’s not their entire life.
In other words, people who’ve had sex.
Interview was edited and condensed.