Fletch Lives (1989)
PG...somehow. Seriously, things were allowed to be R back in the '80s. But somehow, this absolutely insane example of PG might be going too far. It is kind of the worst of Chevy Chase, with the casual racism, deeply inappropriate homosexual stereotypes, Nazism, and just overall pride in political incorrectness. There's sexuality and murder that's part of the plot, coupled with some pretty blasphemous stuff. At least the latter has to do with the plot, but there are so many moments that just don't need to happen in this movie. PG.
DIRECTOR: Michael Ritchie
What? How? If you read my initial blog about Fletch, you'll read about me complaining that a bit too much Chevy Chase was allowed into the movie to stop it from being great. In my head, it must have been a nightmare working on this film. Sure, I don't really have a lot of evidence on that (which kind of makes me hate myself). But it just seems like Chevy Chase was just given carte blanche on things that he wanted to do with the movie. So much of this screams problematic-era Chevy Chase that it is barely a film.
And it's stuff that doesn't need to be in the movie. There's a really weird scene, mirroring the Lakers scene in the first movie. The Lakers scene in the first movie is this very odd dream sequence that has nothing to do with the plot, so much as it is used to get Chevy Chase into another outfit and tell a joke. If it was cut from the movie, you'd never know that there was a missing beat. If anything, it's a scene that pulls you out of what little verisimilitude the movie offers up to that point. In Fletch Lives, the dream sequence is now of Fletch owning a plantation. At least that scans with what the story is about. The plot surrounds him getting a plantation after the death of his Great Aunt. But the film can't help but grab the low hanging fruit there. Pulling from Lost Cause theory and the mythos of the Old South, Fletch fantasizes about being a plantation owner. And it's the following step that confuses the heck out of me.
They had to know that the whole "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" scene was going to be taboo and that it shouldn't have been done. Why do I know this? It shows that Fletch, sure enough, is a slave owner a'la the Uncle Remus stories, but every one of his happy slaves is a white person. Like, it's really weird. There had to be a production meeting of how they were going to make this scene. I can imagine Chase at a table, frustrated that the scene was even being questioned. So people are spitballing ideas on how to make a scene work without shutting down all of Hollywood. (Maybe part of me has too much belief in the politics of 1989, but that's a whole different blog.) Finally, they decide on making everyone happy and white. Not just in skin color, but clothes too. And then they got a whole bunch of extras who would be remarkably cool with playing a happy slave. That's the part that bugs me, by the way. It's the fact that Fletch's fantasy has all of the slaves be happy and white. In the most absurd way, it is almost a return to Blackface. No, you know what's even more on the nose? It's actual Whitewashing of history. Slavery wasn't so bad. Look at all these happy white people? Yeah. It's so much.
Luckily, the whole movie isn't straight up racism. But you know what? A lot of it is, so no off the hook for you. (At least it makes Nazis look bad, but not in a classy way.) There's a lot of glory of the Old South happening. I bet that the folks behind Fletch Lives thought that they were really lighting a fire under Southern stereotypes. But there's a way to do it well and then there's Fletch Lives. I'm looking at The Blues Brothers for how to do your Nazi send up. But it seems like Fletch Lives wants to be hip and it never really pulls it off. Like the role of Calculus (I know...I know. Everything hurts typing this.), he absolutely loves work while simultaneously being lazy? I get that he's Fletch's sidekick in this, but it doesn't really paint him in the best light either. Sure, he's the hero in the end. Love that. But Calculus embraces the notion of the placating Black man. He sees all this evil around him and his entire philosophy is "That's how it is and I like it." Honestly (and I get the irony of me writing this), it's like an entire group of white people said that they wanted to be edgy, so they get the Black guy to sign off on it. It's really weird.
Okay, I've established that I don't at all approve of the racism in this? (Even writing that sentence feels like me covering my bases.) I do want to talk about how Fletch Lives doesn't make me hate Fletch altogether. Like how Murder, She Wrote is absolutely absurd, it's weird that investigative reporter Fletch keeps falling into these absurd murder scenarios. Again, I write often how I have to shut off my brain. You kind of just have to. The entire premise is to get Fletch out of L.A. and down to LA (see what I did there?). But I do like that Fletch Lives is okay with being something a little different for Fletch. It's taking the same character (although with even more absurd costume changes) and allowing him to solve a different kind of crime. This one seems a little more standard whodunnit, even though it is pretty solvable (by formula) than some movies. There's a story that can kind of / sort of be followed, which makes the mystery element decent. So, like Fletch, the story is pretty good. It's just that...Fletch isn't that great.
There were lessons learned on the first movie. It's the stuff that I don't necessarily love that other people did. I'm sure that people really dug when Fletch got into silly costumes and adopted weird names and accents to get into places because this film doubles that idea and then keeps pushing them. Making my point, the film actually starts off with Fletch playing a maid with a Greek accent (I suppose I should add that to my list of inappropriate stereotypes that this movie embraces). It all goes down from there because many of those choices don't really make sense. For example, Fletch's most complex outfit is of a faith healer. He does the whole spray tan, wig, glasses, and teeth bit, coupled with a fancy pants suit while sneaking onto the Faith Healing Network. Okay, I get that he doesn't want to be recognized because he's been there before without an outfit. But he creates this persona that is only going to draw attention to himself. It gets him on television. Now, Fletch had originally suspected the bombastic pastor (actually really well-cast with R. Lee Ermey) as the killer, so he had to get close to him. Fine. But it's also clear that Fletch abhors the con-man faith healing that the network offers. So when he makes this absolutely absurd character to sneak on, he's only affirming the notion of faith healing to a group that is being preyed upon.
So, it's the character of Fletch that bothers me. I kind of dovetailed and shorthanded my last idea in my original Fletch blog. I was so put off by Fletch in my youth and I do enjoy the mysteries behind these movies more than I admit. But this is all for Confess, Fletch. Now I'm thinking, what if Confess, Fletch sucks? That's a very real possibility. Really, I'm watching for Jon Hamm where he is the comic lead in a serious situation. That's mainly what I might want. Hamm tends to play either dramatic or straight man to a comic lead. But the few times where he's allowed to show off his comic prowess, the man is a genius. And that trailer? It makes the first two Fletch movies seem quaint. And it all makes me think, is Fletch part of the cinematic canon? It seems like it has enough of a following to be able to garner attention and readers to this blog. But if people are starting to forget The Godfather (my theory, not a popular idea), how quickly is Fletch going to be forgotten?
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.