You don’t need a time-traveling DeLorean to revisit the 1980s. Just grab your leg warmers and your Gordon Gekko suspenders and head to the multiplex. Several franchises from that decade — Indiana Jones, Rambo, Friday the 13th, The Terminator, Batman — returned to the big screen with great fanfare in recent times, and this year will see updates of Red Dawn, Tron, The Karate Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Clash of the Titans, among others. But one film that won’t be getting a Hollywood dust-off anytime soon is Fletch, the iconic 1985 comedy in which Chevy Chase, as the titular wisecracking reporter, unravels complex crimes with help from disguises and absurd aliases, such as Ted Nugent, Harry S. Truman, and Dr. Rosenrosen.
It isn’t that no one’s tried to revive Fletch. Over the last dozen years, at least four studios have attempted to revitalize the cult franchise (Fletch spawned a far less beloved 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives), and Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Jason Lee, Zach Braff, Joshua Jackson, and Chase himself have all been approached to play the lead. ”There’s not an actor that’s ever said anything funny that hasn’t been talked about,” says David List, who managed the late author Gregory McDonald, on whose novels the Fletch films were based. ”One executive said, ‘Why don’t we write the role female and go to Ellen DeGeneres?”’
When it was released 25 years ago, Fletch was a decent-size hit, earning $51 million. Over the decades, the film has achieved a cult status among comedians and humor buffs, who repeat the central character’s bons mots (”I’ll have a Bloody Mary, and a steak sandwich and…a steak sandwich,” ”It’s all ball bearings nowadays”) with the enthusiasm of evangelical preachers. It’s a fair bet that someone at this very moment is uttering one of the movie’s classic lines or jokingly attempting to charge some purchase to ”the Underhills,” a country club couple who unwittingly finance some of Fletch’s shenanigans (including those steak sandwiches). You can even buy a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ”This shirt was also charged to the Underhill’s.”
The film’s appeal lies squarely with Chase’s droll depiction of a hero who relies not on superhero powers, or even a gun, but his wits alone. ”The reason Fletch meant so much to me is that it showed that the smartest guy in the room is actually the coolest,” says one unabashed fan, the writer-director Cory Edwards (Hoodwinked). ”My favorite exchange is when some woman says, ‘Now, who are you again?’ And he says, ‘I’m Frieda’s boss.’ And she says, ‘Who’s Frieda?’ And he goes, ‘My secretary.’ And he leaves!” Edwards is among an army of scribes who have pitched ideas for a new Fletch movie. So many Hollywood insiders have fallen under the spell of McDonald’s character, in fact, that Fletch’s continued absence from theaters is bewildering. Director Kevin Smith, who’s dreamed of making a third Fletch film since 1997, says McDonald’s Fletch novels ”taught me how to write dialogue.” Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence calls himself ”a Fletch nerd.” Ryan Reynolds considers Chase’s performance ”hallowed ground.”
And then there’s Ben Affleck — who, as a young actor, once said, ”I always tell people at hotels to ‘put it on the Underhills’ account.’ Only rarely do they know what I’m talking about. But when they do, I know I’ve met a kindred spirit.”
NEXT PAGE: Birth of a cult classic