Saturday, May 18, 2024

‘Confess, Fletch’ is Great Copy

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Confess, Fletch is a five-star, three-star movie. A perfectly solid film that does what it does in a serviceable manner without overstaying its welcome. As a culture, we have drifted into an era in which everything must be the best or the worst, a dull state of affairs.

Movies like Greg Mottola’s Confess, Fletch is a simple frothy pleasure. Indeed, with a rock-solid script by Zev Borow and Mottola, adapted from Greg Macdonald’s book of the same name, the movie is an achievement in several respects. For one, it’s a damn good adaptation of Macdonald’s book and character, and Jon Hamm is perfectly cast as the intrepid former investigative reporter.

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I.M. Fletch (Jon Hamm)

Irwin Fletcher is a complicated character to write simply because there’s nothing that special about him. He doesn’t have a fatal flaw. He’s a white straight male who’s kind of a jerk and a bit of a womanizer. It’s a challenging role to write and portray, but it works because Hamm is so charming and because Mottola and Borow wisely make Fletch the eye of the storm.

A calm observer, the kind of person people open up to. We discover how calm he is under pressure at the very beginning of the film when Fletch discovers a dead woman on the floor of the apartment he’s renting for a few days. He calls the police, but not 911-he calls the municipal number.

Fletch can go anywhere and do anything, simply by who he is. He enjoys screwing with the rich and influential people in authority. For example, people in power like Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.), known as “Slow-Mo Monroe” by his peers, and his deputy in training Griz (Ayden Mayeri). All the evidence points to Fletch, but Monroe, while reasonably sure it might be Fletch, is no dummy.

No one is more surprised than Fletch. After all, he only came from Boston to search for the missing paintings stolen from Count de Grassi (Robert Picardo). Well, he’s there because the Count’s daughter, Fletch’s current girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo), asked him to try and find them to pay the ransom for the kidnapped Count. Funnily enough, Angela thinks the Count’s new wife, the Contessa (Marcia Gay Harden), is behind the kidnapping.

But who killed Laurel Goodwin? It can’t be Eve (Annie Mumulo), the absent-minded stoned out of her gourd neighbor. Maybe it’s Owen (John Behlman), the apartment owner, or his ex-wife Tatiana (Lucy Punch)? Poor Fletch has to juggle all these people and meet the germaphobic EDM aficionado art dealer who may have the line on the missing paintings of Ronald Horan (Kyle MacLachlan).

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Griz (Ayden Mayeri) and Inspector Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.)

Borow and Mottola’s script is intelligent, funny, and never dawdles. But Confess, Fletch is a comedy for grown-ups. The jokes are dry, fast, and loose, and you decide if they are funny. 

Through it all, there’s Hamm’s I.M. Fletch, who plays Fletch as if he’s been playing for dozens of movies. Hamm wears Fletch like a second skin, confident, bemused, and confused, as he boldly walks into one room uninvited after the next. Whether it’s the way he tells every Uber driver “five-stars” or starts to take his shoes off the moment he sits down because “feet want to be free,” there’s a beach-bum charm to his Fletch.

Roy Wood Jr.’s Slow-Mo Monroe is a nice little touch. In the original novel, Monroe is an Irish man undercover in the states and a man who fought the nazis up close and personal. It’s a lock of backstory, and in truth, Macdonald’s Confess, Fletch is almost a backdoor book for Monroe’s character, who has his own series of mystery novels. Wood’s Monroe, by contrast, is a soft-spoken, methodical man Ferberizing his infant son and would love Fletch to either shut up or confess so he can get some sleep. 

Wood’s Monroe is the rare decent cop. He’s called “Slow-Mo” because he takes so long to close his cases, yet he has a startlingly high success rate. Though his colleagues joke, “Take it easy, boys; Monroe still isn’t sure who shot Lincoln.” Borow and Mottola never outright comment on the racial overtones of “Slow-Mo,” but Monroe does call attention to Fletcher’s white privilege by telling him that he and Griz would never be allowed to wander around a country club, as he does.

Mayeri, as Griz, turns in a terrific comedic performance that is both physical and in how she handles dialogue. Mayeri plays Griz with a touch of bravado, a confidence we sense she doesn’t feel herself, while also finding herself, like everyone else, finding Fleycher equally charming and irritating. She almost steals the show from Wood and Hamm. 

As much fun as Confess, Fletch is, it looks abysmal. Sam Levy’s camerawork is fine, and he has fun with frame compositions and characters entering and leaving the frame. However, at times the lighting is atrocious, casting a dingy pall over the movie. Though it never sinks the film, it can be distracting at times. For example, the scene in which Fletch stares in awe at Mumolo’s Eve as she putters around her cramped kitchen, creating chaos out of thin air, while comedically brilliant, also has the audience squinting because the lighting is so dim.

Odd, considering scenes such as where Fletch meets with his old editor-in-chief Frank Jaffe (John Slattery) are lit better than most. The scene in the bar where the two lovingly bicker back and forth, both sowing exposition and demonstrating the rich backstories these two have, is a perfect example. Perhaps, it’s not Levy but Slattery that makes it work. 

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Frank (John Slattery) and Fletch (Hamm)

It’s safe to say Slattery’s appearance gives Confess, Fletch a little kick, like adding a missing ingredient. I found it refreshing that Slattery’s complaint about millennials was that they were “so goddamned respectful.” Slattery and Hamm’s chemistry hasn’t lost its heat since the days of “Mad Men.” For a brief moment Confess, Fletch feels brighter, fuller, and a little better.

Still, Confess, Fletch works and works well. This is because it understands that Fletch is neither as dumb nor boorish as people think he is nor as smart or dashing as Fletch thinks. I also loved how it acknowledges the pandemic. Whether Fletch asks Ronald if he’s sanitizing his hands because of the pandemic or Frank explains the bare cubicles as people working from home, Confess, Fletch chooses not to bury its head in the sand about a worldwide event. 

Confess, Fletch is a movie for grown-ups, but in the modern era where beautiful people dress in spandex but don’t have sex, it feels oddly more mature. But, remarkably, the maturity isn’t forced. Instead, people talk about and have sex like ordinary healthy people. Mottola even has a little fun when Angie asks Fletch what his friends call him, and smash cuts to her screaming his name as they have sex in his hotel room. But, the sex and the flirting are treated with a refreshing sense of matter-of-factness. 

Yes, there is a sex scene, but there is no nudity. There’s even the c-word, but it’s not the one you’re probably thinking of. As someone who has bemoaned the rising sexlessness of our culture, Confess, Fletch gives hope.

In a way, Confess, Fletch makes for a relaxed companion to the Benoic Blanc films. Less stylized and not as overtly political, but it is no less fun and packed with stars. The film has an easy re-watch-ability factor. It makes me think of a time when television channels would play movies on a Weekend afternoon. Thankfully, Confess, Fletch is good enough that I can watch it without commercial interruptions.

Images courtesy of Miramax and Paramount Pictures

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