Ron Seifried | On 12, Mar 2014
“Do you have the Beatles’ White Album? Never mind, just get me a glass of hot fat. And bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia while you’re out there.”
After over 25 years in development hell, it looks like we will be getting a new film about investigative reporter I.M. Fletcher, better known as Fletch. The character is based on a series of mystery novels by Gregory McDonald and was made famous by Chevy Chase’s portrayal in the 1985 hit movie “Fletch” and its weaker 1989 sequel “Fletch Lives.” In 2004, Chase confirmed that Fletch was his personal favorite role.
The mystery novels began in 1974, winning two Edgar Allen Poe awards for the first two novels (the only time a novel and its sequel won the prestigious honor) and continued until its 12th and final novel in 1994. McDonald retained the rights to his creation, rejecting the likes of Burt Reynolds and Mick Jagger before finally agreeing to Chase. The first movie cleverly mixes a straight mystery approach from the script and Chase’s on-set improvisation, marking the original a 1980’ cult classic.
Another Saturday Night Live alumnus will star in the reboot that Warner Brothers is hoping to be a new feature film franchise. Jason Sudeikis will star in “Fletch Won” a prequel announced as an origin story, despite a novel with the same name originally published in 1985. The reboot will be more of a gritty action comedy more in line with McDonald’s novels than the comedic approach of Chase’s films. No director or start date has been announced as of yet.
The road to a third Fletch film has been a long one. In the mid-90’s, Kevin Smith was set to write and direct “Fletch Won,” adapting McDonald’s 1985 prequel novel with Chase reprising the role. Chase and Smith never saw eye-to-eye, so the project landed at Miramax with plans for it to be the “first ever franchise” at Miramax, according to studio co-head Harvey Weinstein. Smith name-dropped Jason Lee and Ben Affleck as possible Fletch’s, with a cameo by Chase.
The film was scheduled to shoot in 2003, but by then Weinstein did not want to take a chance on the unproven Jason Lee. Other names floated around including Brad Pitt, Zach Galifianakis, Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon, but Zack Braff was finally cast as Fletch. By then Smith left the project.
“Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence was set to replace Smith, marking his first time at the helm of a feature film and its potential sequel. Lawrence was such a die-hard fan, he actually read all the novels as a kid. Zack Braff was still attached to the project, going so far to announce on his website: “Bill Lawrence is writing and directing Fletch in the spring and he wants me to play young Fletch, but no firm plans are in place yet. He is still writing the script.” By June 2007, both Braff and Lawrence were off the project, with Lawrence replaced by director Steve Pink, best known as the director of “Hot Tub Time Machine.”
“Fletch” was a personal favorite, blending sarcasm, derision, anti-establishment and mockery that Chase skillfully portrayed. It is one of his better roles, nestled comfortably between Ty Webb and Clark Griswold and in many ways a spiritual sequel to Lieutenant Tony Carlson from “Foul Play.”
A product of the 1970’s newspaper culture, the new Fletch may seem more at home as a investigative reporter for an online site. McDonald’s former manager and the writer of the new script David List is comparing the new Fletch to grittier 1980’s cop films “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Midnight Run” more than the slapstick approach of Chase’s films. This alone will upset fans of the movies, but may be a relief to readers of the novels.
“The character is much more grounded. Fletch has many of the characteristics of a real Byronic hero. He’s a seeker of the truth. That’s all he’s driven by. And he’ll lie through his teeth to get at it” says List.
The most disconcerting aspect about this project is that the script is an original story not based on the novels and is taking a more serious approach from the films. Its another clear example of a studio rebooting a franchise without little regards to the source material, in this case any one of McDonald’s 12 novels.
The casting of Sudeikis is a predictable and safe move by Warners, I was ok with “Horrible Bosses” and need to check out “We’re the Millers” to give a fair assessment of Sudeikis, but judging him based on SNL alone will not be enough in this case. I am holding out hope this may be a decent reboot.