Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Universal Pictures & Douglas/Greisman
Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Runtime: 98 min.
Size: 25 GB
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: June 2, 2009
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby 2.0
English SDH, Spanish & French
• Just Charge it to the Underhills: Making and Remembering
Fletch – in SD (26:34)
• From Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman: The Disguises – in SD
• Favorite Fletch Moments – in SD (2:37)
• BD-Live 2.0
Michael Ritchie's best films may have been well behind him
(Prime Cut, The Candidate, The Bad News Bears), but he still
had enough management skills to hold the reins of Chevy
Chase who, we learn from the extra features, would just as
soon improvised the movie into his particular brand of
madness. We also gather that Ritchie's way of handling this
was to shoot many scenes both his way and Chevy's. It looks
like a little of both made their way into the finished
product – amazingly it worked.
Writer Andrew Bergman's idea for the movie, based on a
series of novels by Gregory McDonald, was to ground (that's
"ground" not "grind") Chevy's improvs and antics into a
certain level of hard-boiled detective mystery. This is
always tricky (my gold standard is Silver Streak with Gene
Wilder and Richard Pryor), but I think it works here. There
are countless opportunities – made for or assumed by Chevy –
for the usually deadpan actor's offhand stick. He even has a
go at romancing the bad guy's wife (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson.)
What may amaze is how credible is the final showdown between
Fletch and the two (count them) bad guys that manages a
surprising degree of ferocity.
The Movie: 7
Chevy Chase plays Irwin Fletcher, an investigative
journalist based in Los Angeles. He's been researching drug
dealing in the Venice area when he is approached by Alan
Stanwyck (Tim Matheson) who contracts Fletch to kill him a
week from now. Because Fletch has been disguised as a
homeless beachcomber, Stanwyck assumes he has nothing or no
one to live for and would be just the fellow to put him out
of his misery and so avoid a painful death from some
It doesn't take Philip Marlowe to smell a rat - I mean $50k
for a killing of a guy who looks fit and lives very wealthy
- but it does take Fletch on an amusing and sometimes
thrilling chase through a doctor's office, a run-in with a
Doberman, and staring at the wrong end of a gun barrel.
Meanwhile there's that drug running caper that keeps
surfacing along with a local police chief (Joe Don Baker)
that doesn't appreciate Fletch nosing into his territory.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence
compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.
The second number places this image along the full range of
DVD and Blu-ray discs.
Fletch never looked all that good to start with, so we
shouldn't be surprised with soft, flat and grainy. I think
I've seen the occasional DVD title looking better, but not
for Fletch, though I doubt it's the fault of the transfer. A
restoration is asking for a lot, even for a classic comedy
such as this. The color looks natural. Black levels vary:
sometimes the picture appears overexposed, sometimes fairly
snappy. The recent anamorphic "Jane Doe" DVD edition, which
is an improvement over the 1998 DVD, looks a lot like the
Blu-ray, with some brightening in the darker scenes, a
little extra contrast and lots more edge enhancement – lots.
(You can see these effects readily in the 100% cropping of
the DVD and Blu-ray frames.) The Blu-ray does exhibit some
edge-enhancement, but not nearly to the extent of its SD
predecessor, and its higher resolution is apparent, if not a
Audio & Music:
Every time I watch Fletch I can't shake the feeling that
I've heard this music someplace before. It's Beverly Hills
Cop, isn't it? Ah, yes - Harold Faltermeyer wrote and
produced "The Heat is On" from BHC and "Bit by Bit" for
Fletch and he's listed as the principal composer for the
"original" music for both movies. Beverly Hills Cop, in case
you forgot, came out the year before. I used to speculate
that the producers for Fletch were eager to capitalize on
the success of the earlier movie with just this little bit
of snatch and grab. For me, It's a distraction, which is too
bad, since the music works for both movies.
Even in uncompressed audio, this is a seriously unremarkable
audio mix, with pretty much only the music to open things
up. Otherwise, the dialogue and other effects are more or
less centered and minus any snap – though we certainly don't
ever need to resort to subtitles to hear Chevy mumble his
way through his disguises.
Loading leads us directly to the feature menu, which is laid
out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way
to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions
are intuitive. No U-Control here, but there is a BD-Live 2.0
option, which I did not explore.
I would never have thought there was enough material in
Fletch's disguises, clever though they were, to account for
an extra feature – and, on the evidence of this segment, I'd
have been right. As the Favorite Fletch Moments, such an
idea was inevitable – but why not have them in HD, since
they're right there for the taking. Which leaves the
peculiarly authored "Just Charge it to the Underhills."
After its forced and not very funny prologue where we are
introduced to it faux-investigative journalist, Jason
Hillhouse ("Hillhouse." "Underhill." Hmmm. Can Frodo be far
behind?), the feature does a pretty good job of revisiting
the production through the eyes of its writer, Andrew
Bergman (who had a hand in the writing of Blazing Saddles
and went on, famously, to write and direct The Freshman and
infamously write and direct Striptease.) Also on hand are
the producers, Peter Douglas and Alan Greisman, and most of
its actors excepting Chevy Chase himself – unless he was
cleverly disguised as Geena Davis. (Michael Ritchie had died
a few years earlier, but Chevy hadn't.)
OK, there's not much to recommend this disc as an upgrade.
The image is better than the DVD: it's sharper and tighter,
with more natural contrast and a bit more dimensional with
significantly less EE, but don't expect Trading Places here.
Even so, if there's any chance you've never seen this movie,
which is along with Foul Play, Chevy's best work, then you
should not hesitate here.
May 31st, 2009