At 25: “Fletch Lives”

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March 17, 2014 by billysparrow

fletch_lives

Fletch Lives

Released: March 17, 1989

Starring: Chevy Chase, Cleavon Little, Hal Holbrook, Julianne Phillips, R. Lee Ermey, Randall “Tex” Cobb

The plan was to see “Fletch Lives” on Saturday, March 18, 1989. It was my friend Brian’s birthday, and it had been decided that part of the party would be going to see “Fletch Lives” at the UA Travis movie theater. I had either not seen the original “Fletch” yet or had seen it and didn’t like it (there was some point where I saw it and didn’t like it; I’m still not all that high on it), so I don’t know why I was so keen on seeing the sequel. Other than, you know, Chevy Chase was in it. Anything with him in it couldn’t be a total loss (or so the 12-year-old me thought).

Anyway, the day before the party, I was walking home from another day in the seventh grade, when I came to the corner of Jewett Avenue and College Avenue. I had the “Don’t Walk” sign, but I looked left, looked right, and decided I was clear to go.

As it turns out, I should’ve looked left again.

I don’t remember what happened after I took the first step off the curb. But when I came to, there were a bunch of people around and a car and an ambulance, and a lot of commotion. A little while later, I pieced it together that I’d been hit by a car.

Then there was a ride in an ambulance and a hospital bed and somebody asking me what year it was. I thought that was a pretty stupid question. But I answered anyway and got it right. And not too long after that (I seem to recall it only being a one-night stay, but maybe it was two), I was on my way home, with no scars or broken bones, just a strong sense of shame (I remember the woman who hit me being pretty upset at the accident scene…sorry about that, wherever you are) and the realization that my inability to properly cross a street at the age of 12 would probably be brought up and mocked in the near future.

Anyway, I didn’t get to see “Fletch Lives.” But I just watched it now (I don’t think I ever did wind up seeing it), so I might as well tell you what I think about it while you reflect on how many blog entries you would have missed if that accident had gone a different way.

It turns out “Fletch Lives” is a little better than I expected (though it starts to drag toward the end), and now I think maybe I should give the original another shot. In both movies, Chase plays Irwin Fletcher, a journalist who also winds up doing some crime detective work on the side. In “Fletch Lives,” this involves the Belle Isle plantation that Fletch’s aunt has left him in Louisiana. Fletch quits his job at the newspaper to live on his new 80-acre estate, but the land winds up being part of a real-estate scheme that, to be honest, I stopped understanding as the final details were revealed near the movie’s end. But it involves a televangelist (played by R. Lee Ermey, in a rare nonmilitary appearance, and looking a bit like Adam Carolla); a couple of attorneys (Patricia Kalember and Hal Holbrook); a real estate agent (the former Mrs. Springsteen, Julianne Phillips); and the plantation’s caretaker (Cleavon Little). And, as luck would have it, it also involves the vast acting talents of former boxer and unsung cinema hero Randall “Tex” Cobb.

Fletch is a master of disguise (well, maybe a practitioner of disguise) and uses this talent and his quick wit to help navigate his way through Southern life. Throughout the movie, Fletch assumes the identities of Peggy Lee Zorba, Henry Himmler, Billy Jean King, Claude Henry Smoot, Ed Harley, and, my personal favorite, Elmer Fudd Gantry, in his efforts to figure out why his aunt’s dilapidated estate is getting so much attention.

Your feelings about the movie will largely depend on your tolerance of Chase and his mastery at playing a sarcastic a-hole (I know, I know…some say he’s not “playing”). But if you cannot appreciate a classic Chase moment like the following exchange Fletch has with a woman at the newspaper office, you’ve got issues:

Fletch: Hey Betty, how about lunch at the In N’ Out Burger?

Betty: [disgusted] No.

Fletch: Okay, forget the burger, how about just the in and out?

[she sneers at him]

Fletch: Okay, how about just the in?

And this one’s a good quick hit, too:

Hamilton Johnson (Holbrook): So tragic when this happens to somebody so young and healthy. Was she feeling all right last night?

Fletch: She felt great to me.

As I said, the movie starts to lose steam in the final third or so, as there’s just a little too much plot confusion for a mindless comedy. But, ultimately, Chase is good enough that I’m willing to overlook the movie’s flaws and recommend it for viewing. The subtlety of Chase’s comedy is really something to be admired. I’ve always maintained that one of the greatest moments in my favorite movie (“National Lampoon’s Vacation”) is a little moment when Clark gets his completely demolished car back and, despite the fact that it is wrecked and completely flattened, he still goes to open the door. It’s little moments like that that make me love Chevy Chase. This scene in “Fletch Lives” is another example of how little facial expressions and mannerisms can make a scene.

One other thing worth noting about “Fletch Lives” is that all the Louisiana-based music in the movie (including this song that plays over the closing credits) is courtesy of Buckwheat Zydeco, a fact that would’ve meant absolutely nothing to me as a 12-year-old but stands out as pretty cool to me at 37, or even just about five years after the movie’s release when I saw Buckwheat Zydeco on a whim at the State Theatre in downtown Ithaca.

So, what have we learned? First of all, Chevy Chase is pretty damn funny. Second, people don’t give Randall “Tex” Cobb enough respect. Third, you should listen to some Buckwheat Zydeco music. And, finally, don’t cross against the “Don’t Walk” sign, but if you insist on doing that, look left, look right, and then look left again.

And happy birthday, Brian!

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