One of the great mysteries of the last 20 years is why it has been hard for Hollywood to make a new “Fletch” movie.
If your only knowledge of Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher is from the Chevy Chase film or its sequel, then you might not understand my frustration. If you’re a fan of Gregory McDonald’s novels, though, then you know what I’m talking about. He wrote great, simple, wildly witty adventures featuring the character for years, and much of what people assume was invented by Chase is pretty much a direct lift from McDonald’s first book. He really was that funny in print, well before Chase got there.
In fact, the thing that makes the first film so good, in my opinion, is that McDonald provides such a strong mystery spine that the comedy feels like a bonus, not the point. And it helps that Andrew Bergman wrote the script since he’s, you know, a big-brained comedy god. You get to be called that for the rest of your life when you wrote “The In-Laws,” “The Freshman,” and co-wrote “Blazing Saddles.” That’s in the WGAw bylaws, I think.
Bergman made it look easy, which means it’s all his fault that screenwriter after screenwriter has crashed on the rocks of re-developing the material over the years. Kevin Smith, for example, spent years talking about his plans for the property. Zach Braff and Bill Lawrence also took a shot at it, or at least circled the material for a while. Steve Pink also jumped onboard for a while, only to eventually jump back off. And I’ve heard them discuss starting later in the series with “Fletch Won” or “Son Of Fletch,” and in each case, I’m baffled. It’s not that difficult.
Then again, we live in a world where people are afraid of doing a straight adaptation. Everyone’s gotta jazz things up, even when they work perfectly well in the first place. I’m curious to see what approach won Dave Mandel the job of writing the film, which is today’s big news. I think Mandel’s a very smart, very funny guy, and he could turn out to be a really nice fit with the material. If “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” don’t serve as proper resume credits, nothing does. I’m just curious what it means when we read reports that they want this to play out on a “bigger canvas.” If they’re starting with the first book, as they claim they are, the point isn’t’ the scale of the adventure, but the careful construction of the mystery. Get that right, and I’m sure Mandel can crank up as much funny as you’d want.
I hope they get these right. As with the Travis McGee books, the source material is there for a long and smart series, and Warner Bros. just needs to trust that there’s a reason McDonald won awards as he published his 11 books in the series and not reinvent the wheel completely.