One day perhaps the world will see another Fletch film after 25 years of false starts. Jason Sudeikis’ name surfaced back in March as a possible replacement for Chevy Chase in the iconic role of Irwin Fletcher, but there has been no official confirmation or additional chatter about the project and it’s not like rumors have to be shot down to render them useless; sometimes all it takes is time.
Until Fletch Won (or whatever it winds up being called) breaks from tradition and advances toward production, though, we still have Gregory McDonald’s novels, original film, and its tonally divergent sequel, Fletch Lives. You may also know the latter as “that other Fletch movie.”
Poorly received at the time of its release (but not an outright bomb), Fletch Lives is often overlooked by those who love the first one so much that they can’t tolerate a slightly lesser work and contemporary cinematic theologians that like to go along with the view that Fletch Lives is a pulseless cash-grab like a lot of Chevy Chase films.
I’m not going to try and sell you on the idea that Fletch Lives is some misunderstood classic. It’s not, but it does have its merits:
Even Chevy Chase has admitted that the plot of Fletch Lives isn’t as strong as the plot of the first film. Part of that has to be attributed to the change in screenwriters from Andrew Bergman to Leon Capetanos for the sequel. Bergman, who also co-wrote Blazing Saddles, actually wrote a script for a Fletch sequel that was based on McDonald’s novel, “Fletch and the Man Who,” but it was rejected for whatever reason and Capetanos’ wholly original jaunt was chosen instead.
If you liked the silly disguises that Chevy Chase donned in Fletch and didn’t think that they were a blight on the film, then that change likely didn’t affect you since Capetanos’ script doubled down on those crowd pleasing antics.
In Fletch Lives, Chevy Chase masquerades as Nostradamus, Eldridge Clever, Elmer-Fudd Gantry, Peggy Lee Zorba, Ed Harley, Peter Lemonjello, and others. Was there simply too much of a good thing? That’s a matter of opinion, but even the most jaded viewer would likely have a hard time slighting Chase’s commitment to the bit. Honestly, it’s his execution that milks laughter from these silly character moments thanks to his quick wit, and though it isn’t the most highbrow way to get laughs, it does the job. Repeatedly.
Besides the one man band that is Chevy Chase, Fletch Lives was also bolstered by a trio of strong supporting performances thanks to Hal Holbrook, Cleavon Little, and R. Lee Ermey.
As eventual baddie (Spoiler alert? It’s been a quarter century.) Ham Johnson, Holbrook plays both sides of the coin nicely, deploying his slow southern drawl as Fletch’s attorney before turning almost manic in defense of his beloved Momma and his toxic plans for Bible Land. Ermey plays the Walt Disney-esque proprietor of the hallelujah spectacle/amusement park at the heart of the story and delivers a spot-on spoof of late 80s televangelists like Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker.
I actually dislike the late Cleavon Little’s dim caretaker/sidekick character because it feels like the role puts handcuffs on a dynamic performer who rarely got the chance to truly shine after he starred in Blazing Saddles. With that said, though, Little made the most out of what he was given in one of his last high profile roles before he succumbed to cancer three years later.
Though most of Fletch Lives takes place far away from the Los Angeles base of the first film, director Michael Ritchie (who directed both Fletch films) found a way to work in cameos for Richard Libertini (Fletch’s editor) and George Wyner (Fletch’s ex-wife’s attorney). But the best cameo appearance in Fletch Lives is actually the briefest as William Traylor shows up as Mr. Underhill, strumming his tennis racket like a guitar and dancing beside Fletch and a cartoon dog in the plantation dream sequence.
Chevy Chase’s Long Winter
If we can agree that the bottom started to fall out of Chevy Chase’s career with the pairing of Nothing But Trouble and Memoirs of an Invisible Man in 1991 then we can probably agree that 1989 was his last good year thanks to Fletch Lives and Christmas Vacation.
By 1995, Chase had become a punchline following both his disastrous stab at late night and the progressive slide down the family friendly drain with Cops and Robbersons, Man of the House, and Snow Dogs. It would take 14 years for Chase to rehabilitate his brand on Community in 2009. That means that two decades passed between comedically relevant roles for Chase. I hate to sound so grand, but that detail makes Fletch Lives historically significant as far as Chevy Chase goes because it was the last effective gasp of the dry and effortless smart*ss persona that carried the first Fletch, Family Vacation, Caddyshack and other films between Chase’s 1978-1989 heyday.
After Fletch Lives, there is only a sea of sometimes dull and sometimes soft material for Chevy Chase and the obvious acceptance of that fate by an actor who maybe got too comfortable to shake things up and eventually got too irrelevant to be able to. With all of that in mind, I want to run towards Fletch Lives to savor its high points, not push it away because it is one of the last Chevy Chase movies to feel like a Chevy Chase movie.