Thursday, July 27, 2006

Who took Irwin Maurice Fletcher? And how can we get him back?

Wherein I've always liked his journalism quote "In this business, there is no such thing as a wrong question. There are only wrong answers."

XWL has a problem with a Fletch prequel. Thing is, Fletch Won is based on an actual book by the Fletch author, Gregory McDonald.

A few thoughts. I was a huge fan of the Fletch series and when I heard Chevy Chase would play him I thought that would be perfect. Then I watched the movie and it sucked. Ass. Hard. Really hard. I think this was the curtain rising on the fact that Chevy Chase really wasn't that funny. Looking back, he never was funny. He's probably SNL's worst weekend update anchor and his filmography is one giant train wreck. I'll give you Caddyshack and National Lampoon's Vacation, but except for a handful of lines, and that hand is missing a couple fingers, he's the least funny person in both movies. His mugging and tumbling are embarrassing cries for attention. Then there's the ruining Memoirs of an Invisible Man, another one of my favorite novels. There is nothing nice to be said about that movie.

As far as fans of the Fletch movie go, the second movie, Fletch Live seems to be unloved. Weird thing is, I liked that one. Even weirder, even though it wasn't based on a Fletch book it sounded more like McDonald than the first movie did.

Fletch is an interesting character. There's a lot of humor in the stories, tinged with plenty corners of darkness. In Fletch, he's pretty much a prick and he's sleeping with an underage hooker. Subsequent novels tone down the prickness a bit, though Fletch remains mostly a friendless loner. Subsequent, up to a point. The Fletch series started in 1974 and by the time of the movie in 1985, any substance and style was rapidly falling off. Characters and plot twists were being replaced by trying too hard to be witty dialogue. The same problem as the movie. After the movie, it seemed that McDonald gave up trying and the few novels I did read came off as an attempt to write a script for Chevy Chase.

Then there's the problem with continuity and timelines. The novels do not take place in sequence. For example, the seventh novel, Carioca Fletch, takes place almost immediately after Fletch. This isn't necessarily a problem, except in latter novels details are forgotten and former events no longer make sense. Starting with Fletch Won, published in 1985--the year of the movie--and continuing through the horrid "Son of Fletch" books, Fletch's history is essentially rewritten. All of a sudden he's a rookie reporter in Los Angeles; his past as a very successful investigative reporter for a number of other papers in a number of cities is forgotten, along with his being an art critic. Mention of a father is also lost as his personal life is reinvented. Bits and pieces of earlier characters and plots make small appearances, though nothing makes sense.
update: reading descriptions of the books, this "rewriting" may have started as early as "Fletch and the Widow Bradley" (1981). It has been 20-25 years since I've read some of these..

If someone wants to redo Fletch I'm all for it. Though I'd only use the novels prior to 1985. And the first three are the cream of the crop: Fletch, Confess Fletch, and Fletch's Fortune. At that point, switch over to the Flynn series. Flynn was introduced in Confess Fletch and is an international spy hiding out in the Boston police department. It would need a bit of updating as it was written in the mid-70s. Part of Flynn's backstory is that as the son of Irish diplomats, he spent Word War II in Germany and joined the Hitler Youth to smuggle photos and intelligence to the English. The first Flynn-only novel, Flynn (1977), actually involves Arabs blowing up a plane over Boston. Checking the wiki listing, I see McDonald had a fourth Flynn novel in 2003. I'll have to pick it up. Despite my wanting to erase about half of McDonald's catalog, there is still a core group of books I enjoyed and would recommend--try to find a copy of Who Took Toby Rinaldi? There's also a Skylar series I'm unfamiliar with and I'll have to see what that's about.

While XWL has his reasons for fearing a Fletch prequel, they are not the correct reasons. It starts with a belief that the Fletch movie is worth watching and that a prequel would be insulting to its memory. No. The prequel as proposed is wrong because it's based on the sequence of novels that suck. Fletch needs to be redone to remove the awful stench of Chevy Chase and there's the original core of seven (or fewer) novels that can do that.


Perhaps I won't take a look at the latest Flynn novel. Here's a clip from Patrick Burnett "penngos" review:
Far from being one of Flynn's standard, entertaining romps, this fourth outing is a ponderous, pedantic drudge. In the intervening years while Gregory McDonald was off creating the dull "Skylar" and the flavorless "Son of Fletch" books (not to mention the awful works of "literature" he foisted on an unsuspecting public), he seems to have forgotten how to write for someone truly clever, not merely bombastic. Flynn now seems older, world-weary. This might be acceptable if the character had aged a dozen years in the interim, but this book takes place only a few weeks after the first one, "Flynn".

That's what I was hoping to avoid. A Gregory McDonald interview.


Blogger XWL said...

Actually I think Fletch was pretty crappy, too (Funny Farm and the first Vacation are the only Chevy Chase films that even begin to approach amusing).

Why relaunch a crappy movie series with an even crappy prequel?

There are many book series that are best left as books, and not filmed.

And the Defamer blurb mentions that they are thinking of Zach Braff for the role (given the Scrubs connection, it makes sense).


(oh the humanity)

(I'm hoping that Defamer is only joking about the Braff rumor, but this is Hollywood, and worse has happened)

(now Neil Patrick Harris on the other hand, that would be awesome)

7/27/2006 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

If they kept with the original tone, I think Neil Patrick Harris could be an excellent Fletch.

7/27/2006 04:58:00 PM  

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