This Fletch news feels different. Of all the many attempts to reboot Fletch over the last 30 plus years, no other actor (rumored or confirmed for the part) has been as not on the nose as Jon Hamm is for the role. From Jason Lee to Ryan Reynolds, John Krasinski, Ben Affleck, and Jason Sudeikis (the last two options representing the best and most interesting of the bunch, to my mind), there has always been a seeming effort to make sure that the next Irwin M. Fletcher felt like a spiritual successor to the first. The fit of the Lakers jersey was destined to be perfect and fans of the original film(s) would be serviced right and truly by a barrage of sarcasm and silly disguises. But maybe, in hindsight, that approach was wrong. Or maybe it was our perception of what makes a good Fletch that was off the mark.
On the surface, there is little about Jon Hamm that is reminiscent of Chevy Chase. One often comes off as commanding, the other is loose and always in play mode. But if you look a little deeper at the roles they’ve taken on, there are slight similarities.
In the ’80s, Chase played his most indelible characters on a spectrum ranging from aloof to smug and indifferent to if anyone else was having as much fun as he was. He was an asshole, and yet somehow likable. Especially in Fletch. Though he’d fake being in control, Fletch was often flailing, barely escaping tight situations by making things up as he went along. But he was also tough, able to take a punch or put someone in their place if they mistook his humor as a sign of weakness. That struggle, strength, and the character’s hunger for justice enmeshed with Chase’s specific charms and both a script (by Andrew Bergman) and source material (by novelist Gregory McDonald) that supernaturally played to those charms to make Fletch special.
In his signature role as Don Draper on Mad Men, Hamm played an ad man wired to make sure that he connected with everyone in every room, but it was all an effort to seduce them to his way of thinking. He was another asshole who was pretty much indifferent to everyone else’s existence but in a more severe way. More hidden and at a different speed. But Draper was also flailing.
In the years since Mad Men went off the air (and while it was on the air) Hamm has been put into a little bit of a Don Draper box. It’s not his fault. Draper is one of the most layered characters in TV history. A lover, a fighter, sad, strong, drunk (on power and drink), resilient, brilliant, frightened, and fearless. A terrible father, husband, and boss with shades of being warm and wonderful to those who loved him even if he could never quite process their love or find a way to not screw things up. How do you play against type when you’ve been given the chance to play all of the types with such gusto and all eyes on you for so long?
For years, Hamm has played with the perception of who people think he’s supposed to be on-screen. Kimmy Schmidt, SNL, Bridesmaids, and Baby Driver stand out, efforts that benefitted from the shock value of seeing “Don Draper” as a cult leader, a sexy saxman, a selfish lover prone to making weird sex faces, and an unrelenting villain. Efforts that have helped to break the box open. And yet, still, when you see the headline “Jon Hamm To Play Fletch,” don’t you cut to him in an immaculate suit, confident, and serious and wonder how that’s going to work? Again, it’s not a Jon Hamm problem, it’s an us problem, but it might be solvable thanks to the choice of source material.
Previous reboot attempts have centered on later books in the series, specifically Fletch Won and Son Of Fletch — offering a path to reboot by way of an origin story or a passing of the torch narrative. Both are appealing, but Confess, Fletch (the second in McDonald’s series and published in 1976) has other things going for it, particularly the thought that it’s a version of the character that’s in a decidedly different place than in the movie.
This book starts with Fletch visiting Boston from his new life in Italy. He’s still dismissive of authority and quick with a quip, but it’s a slightly more refined version with more personal stakes. This is such a great fit for Hamm, who is going to be asked to match the aesthetic of a character attempting to embrace opulence while immersed in the world of art. Someone who is going to likely navigate with humor and humanity while both pursuing an investigation and trying to avoid one thanks to the dead body that he finds in his borrowed apartment (there’s a nod to that same setup in the second Fletch movie, Fletch Lives, but it’s not the same story). Fletch has always been much more than a snide journalist in a Lakers jersey, Confess, Fletch and the passage of three decades makes that easier to remember and swallow.
Francis Xavier Flynn is another real game-changer here. And I mean that in a few ways. A character that McDonald eventually spun off into another series of novels, Flynn is a unique/quirky Boston police investigator with an interest in Fletch as a suspect. With Flynn, there’s great potential to create someone that can stand in against Fletch and make this into less of a one-man-show than the previous films. I’m excited to see the dynamic and what Hamm and his eventual co-star create. But turning to the colder, business side of things, there’s no way the success of Knives Out didn’t play a part in the selection of Confess, Fletch as the source material and this project getting a green light. That film is the gift that keeps on giving.
Remember, in addition to being cherished and a 30+ year unsolvable riddle, Fletch has some of the ingredients from which you can make a successful franchise — nostalgia and a ton of source material to pull from. The Fletchverse could be real one day. Maybe it was about more than finding the right Fletch over the years, maybe it was about realizing the power of having their own Benoit Blanc.
To speculate further on the composition of something at this early stage would be pointless, especially considering the cursed history of these projects that come on with a wave of excitement before dying on the vine for innumerable reasons. But I return to the initial point — this feels like it might be different owing to an actor and source material that seems to better position the film as something truly new with a pathway to success that isn’t purely dependent on nostalgia. If nothing else, it’s certainly worth an open mind and not lazy dismissals based on a limited view of what this can be.