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DVD Review: Fletch – The Jane Doe Edition

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After three years out of circulation, one of the funniest movies of the 1980s has been re-released on DVD in the form of Fletch: The Jane Doe Edition. The hit 1985 film from 1985 starred Chevy Chase as Irwin M. "Fletch" Fletcher, a wise-ass investigative reporter who gets results through an assortment of pseudonyms and disguises.  

As the film opens, we learn that Fletch is posing as a junkie, researching the proliferation of drug trafficking on the Los Angeles beaches. He is staked out and approached by Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson), a wealthy executive who tells Fletch that he is dying of bone cancer. Rather than have his family watch him go through a painful death, Stanwyk will pay Fletch $50,000 to murder him in a week's time. Fletch agrees and, in a matter of only two scenes, we learn both the A and B stories, indicative of the breezy pace employed throughout the movie.  

Fletch uses his journalistic prowess to learn more about Stanwyk, posing as doctor, SEC agent, airplane mechanic, insurance claims adjuster, among others, to get the information he wants. This distracts him from the drug story, much to the chagrin of his editor, played by the always great Richard Libertini. But both stories are neatly resolved at the end.  

Because it's a mystery, I don't want to give away the plot, but chances are you probably already know it, as well as about 85% of the dialogue. Fletch is one of the most quotable comedies of all time. Watching it for the first time in many years, I was struck by not only how many of the jokes I remember, but also how many of them have worked their way into my own repertoire, among them, "So you're saying she moved out," "How's the herpes?" and "No thanks, I'm trying to quit."  

Movies starring former Saturday Night Live cast members are usually a mixed bag. For all the comedic talent, the plots are too often little more than putting the star in flimsy situations and having them act like idiots (yes, Will Ferrell, I'm looking at you). But in Fletch the source material is Gregory McDonald's award-winning novel, and it was adapted for the screen by the great Andrew Bergman (Blazing Saddles, The In-Laws). All the laughs come from watching Fletch use his quick wit to extricate himself from one difficult situation after another, and there is little profanity and no crude humor.  

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the role was perfect for Chase. Appearing in every scene, he keeps his penchant for physical comedy to a minimum and works from the within character, never losing his cool, even when his life is threatened. Outside of the unparalleled Foul Play, this is his greatest work.  

The movie is also aided by a spectacular cast of veteran comic actors. In addition to Matheson and Libertini, we get excellent performances from M. Emmet Walsh, Joe Don Baker, George Wendt, Kenneth Mars, and a young Geena Davis. All of them are little more than foils for Chase's wisecracks, and some only appear in one scene, but their ability to work off him is one of the reasons why Fletch is so well loved while so many other Chase vehicles have failed. As Stanwyk's gorgeous wife and Fletch's love interest, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson displays a deft touch, leading me to wonder why she hasn’t had many other roles this good.  

Fletch: The Jane Doe Edition doesn't have too many features. There is a cleverly done 25-minute feature on the making of the film, with interviews from the cast and crew (except Chase, unfortunately), and a five-minute piece about Fletch's various disguises. There's also an unnecessary compilation of some of the movie's funniest lines, gathered out of sequence and without the context in which they appear.

Still, Fletch has held up very well over the past 20 years, and its re-issue on DVD should be great news to its many fans, and will hopefully help it find some new ones.

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About Dave Lifton