Given the rollicking (and by rollicking I flipping mean rollicking!) success of this half-hearted series, I have decided to go back to the well and bring out another earlier entry! Yes, another sequel! About sequels! You see I too have fallen prey to the demands of the public and am going for the cash grab whilst the gettin’s good!
Actually, this whole thing has been a clever ruse on my part. The reason I started this series is because of the sequel that I’m going to talk about today. Now, was I terribly passionate about Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment? Well, kinda. Not really. Sure, okay. In any case, that was just a balloon I sent up to see which way the wind would blow. And despite knowing what I know about the breaking wind, I’m going to press on anyway. But first, a final rules recap for these sequel articles:
First off, some key ground rules that I set for myself:
1. I will only be looking at the immediate sequels to the originals. So at this point going forward there will be no jumping on Friday the 13th Part 3, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, Halloween 5, Leonard Part 6, The Magnificent Seven, etc. Maybe one day, but not right now. Only Part 2s and Part 2s only.
2. Prequels are also out, unless there’s an immediate Part 2 to the prequel, then game on. And yes, I consider Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be a prequel to Raiders. Because it is. Yes, it is. No, you’re wrong, because it is. So I’m not looking at that one. Besides, Crystal Skull did more to bring awareness to the greatness of Temple of Doom than I ever could.
3. I am not going to look at Part 2s that have a more-or-less universal acclaim. We all know that The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back don’t suck, right? It’s a given that Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are great. I waste your time in so many other ways, so I think I can relieve you of this one at present.
4. I am not in any way saying these Part 2s are better than the originals, unless I do say such a thing. I don’t admit they are flawless films however. They have deficiencies like any movie. But these will come on their own demerits, not just because of a general “they aren’t the first movie”-type attitude.
5. Other rules will be made up haphazardly along the way. Be prepared. There might be a test. Well, it depends if I remember before the holiday break.
I think that’s just enough adieu for one day. Here we go!
The Sequel: Fletch Lives (1989)
Original Movie: Fletch (1985)
Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:
|Chevy Chase||as Irwin M. Fletcher|
|Richard Libertini||as Frank Walker|
|George Wyner||as Marvin Gillet|
To Start With:
“All I needed now was a computer. And a ten year old kid to teach me how to use it.”
1989 truly was magical, wasn’t it? I think every movie released that year was either a blockbuster or really wanted to be one. And the sequels ruled! Look at this list of follow-ups: Lethal Weapon II, Back to the Future Part II, Ghostbusters II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, License to Kill…Off the Series Until 1995, Star Trek V: The Final Time We Let Shatner Direct, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes A Daytrip to Manhattan While Vacationing on A Canadian Cruise Ship, etc.
And Chevy Chase cemented 1989 by being in one of the best sequels ever: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. This third turn as Clark Griswold was a nice hit which rightly became a perennial holiday classic for the past 30 years! And yet…this was Chevy’s second sequel in 1989 where he portrayed one of his great characters. Because back in March of that same year, he graced the screen with the wonderful and woefully underrated Fletch Lives.
Yeah, it is underrated, dammit! I know, I know: comedy is very subjective. The first movie is a classic with very quotable lines. Chevy Chase was firing on every single cylinder he had to make his last iconic character of the 1980s: Irwin M. Fletcher. Universal even submitted a For Your Consideration ad for the Academy Award for Chase that year. No, really!
With all of that said, I love Fletch Lives just as much as the first entry. I do. It isn’t even a guilty pleasure as I am not ashamed of spreading this gospel to all ears that can hear and even some that cannot! And yes, I wrote that without even remembering the televangelism angle in the movie. See? Even though I can’t prove it, that statement only underlines my passion!
Anything Done Better than the Original?
“I parked in a handicap spot on my way up here. Actually, on a handicapped person. I told him I’d be back in five minutes, so that’s not such a big deal.”
Chevy Chase owns the role of investigative reporter Irwin M. Fletcher. Yes, the great Gregory McDonald created Fletch, using him in a terrific series of novels, but I can’t read any of those novels without thinking of Chevy. The character simply makes the best use of Chase’s delivery, improvisation, and character skills overall. When we see other films that just don’t work with Chase, and there are plenty that could be brought up, it is invariable that we look back on Fletch as a part that simply meshed with him.
As good as he was in Fletch, Chase is in even better form in Fletch Lives. His reactions, replies, retorts, and characterizations are solid and hilarious. Since Fletch’s nature is to go undercover to investigate, Chase is given a lot of leeway and doesn’t disappoint. From Elmer Fudd Gantry to Ed Harley to Billy Gene King, Chase isn’t half-assing the personas or disguises. And he could’ve so easily fallen back into a not-giving-a-fully-formed-shit territory, but I think his enjoyment of the character and Michael Ritchie’s direction ensured that didn’t happen.
Also I must also give some love to the late great R. Lee Ermey as TV preacher Jimmy Lee Farnsworth. As typecast as he became after Full Metal Jacket, here Ermey clearly shows some glee in playing a different role as this insincere charlatan. Yes, he’s not an evil villain per se, but compared to Joe Don Baker or Tim Matheson in the first movie, Ermey is certainly more colorful.
Oh the by way, Harold Faltermeyer’s score is fantastic yet again. I know he gets the love for Beverly Hills Cop, but Fletch and especially Fletch Lives are his best scores. Yes, there’s some great assists from Buckwheat Zydeco, but the score here supersedes the music from the first movie. (And an enterprising specialty place finally released a soundtrack on CD! Get them while they’re hot at La-La Land!)
Anything as Good as the Original?
“Over the years, I found Mr. Underhill’s credit card to be a useful tool, much like Underhill himself.”
The sequel’s storyline usually gets bashed because it wasn’t based on a Fletch novel. Now of course, I would have loved it if the sequel had mined one of McDonald’s other books in the series for the plot. “Confess, Fletch” or “Fletch’s Fortune” would have been terrific to adapt, but Fletch Lives took a different path, going with an original mystery story instead. Some view this as a detriment. “After all, isn’t Fletch Lives a bit cornpone at times in dealing with its Louisiana setting?” Yes. “Aren’t many of the auxiliary characters a bit too drawn out and goofy?” Yep.
But with that being said by my ever-present army of straw men, I think that any fan of the book series knows that McDonald could get pretty broad at times too. I don’t think that the plot of Fletch Lives is truly that farfetched when lining it up against the other Fletch books. Read “Fletch and the Widow Bradley” and then tell me if that wasn’t rather off-center when compared to the first novel. And that’s the point with Fletch Lives. New story, similar tone. So I think the storyline is just as good as the original with one major caveat I’ll mention later.
George Wyner is still great, returning as Fletch’s ex-wife’s attorney Marvin Gillet. Richard Libertini is good as Fletch’s editor Frank Walker. Always a pleasure to see Cleavon Little in anything as he was a remarkable actor with a knack for comedy. And Randall “Tex” Cobb? And Chef Brockett is a sheriff?!
Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?
“The Reverend Farnsworth was Becky’s father, but I wasn’t going to hold that against her. If I was going to hold anything against her, it wouldn’t be her father.”
Julianne Phillips is certainly no Dana Wheeler-Nicholson in the female lead department. This is a shame as the movie starts off with Fletch meeting up with Amanda Ray Ross played by Patricia Kalember, who is quite charming and rather lovely. Of course Amanda is the one that gets killed, setting the wheels in motion for Fletch’s investigation. Phillips as Becky Culpepper is certainly cute, but she’s not as compelling as Kalember was. She isn’t really effective in the investigation and is ultimately only tangentially connected in the end by coincidentally being R. Lee Ermey’s daughter.
Dotted throughout the southern atmosphere of Fletch Lives is the implication that most gents down in the Pelican State are rednecks to the nth degree. From the doorknob cops that make Roscoe P. Coltrane look brilliant in comparison to the KKK buffoons botching their cross burning to Cleavon Little’s “Yassah, massa!” interpretation, there are some definite cringey moments. On the whole, the film holds it above board with the only real exception being Fletch’s “jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton” comment. Thankfully, the film doesn’t dwell on it for too long and the characters are obviously there for Fletch to react to above all else.
But again, these are tempered rednecks, with a level of charm I suppose. Fletch isn’t dealing with the denizens of Deliverance or Two Thousand Maniacs here to be sure, because that would certainly be a tonal shift indeed. Also it turns out that Cleavon is playing a role in the end, making himself out to not actually be the stereotype he was conveying for most of the movie. That erases some of the wincing. Not all, but some.
Anything Far Worse than the Original?
“Figuring out that the guy who dropped my watch in the swamp was the same guy who stole it at the morgue didn’t take Sherlock Holmes… Larry Holmes could’ve figured that one out.”
If I have to pick a major negative it is telegraphing that Hal Holbrook as Hamilton Johnson is the bad guy. In Fletch, part of the fun and the mystery is wondering why exactly Alan Stanwyk would hire Fletch to kill him. Is he a villain? Is he going to substitute someone else to frame Fletch? Is Stanwyk sincere and wants to die? We’re left wondering until pieces start coming together.
Fletch Lives is not as subtle in comparison. Here Holbrook had a few instances where he appears to be more than what he says he is. He says variations on “anything I can do to help you” more than a few times and once Jimmy Lee Farnsworth is eliminated from the running, the pickings get mighty slim. Of course it is funny to see Fletch giving Hamilton his comeuppance, but again there weren’t enough sidetracks given to enhance the mystery.
Also no Geena Davis back as Larry. Just that. Instead we are expected to believe that Frank will just leap to help Fletch after he had quit the newspaper to go to Louisiana? I guess that might happen, but Geena Davis would have been a more likely helper while Fletch was persona non grata at the paper.
“Well, I’ve sinned. I didn’t take any Polaroids or anything. But, yeah, I’ve sinned.”
Despite being #1 at the box office on its opening weekend, Fletch Lives was the last of Fletch on any screen really as of this writing. There were rumors back around 1998 that Fletch fan/director Kevin Smith was going to be bringing Fletch back with an older Chevy Chase reprising the role. The idea was that Chase was either going to be reflecting back on a past case or possibly having someone play his son and take the series from there. Jason Lee or Zach Braff were in the running at certain points to portray Fletch or his spawn, but it never happened. Yet it was this close enough to production that it made official filmography lists on early Universal DVDs. This means that purchasers of used discs have been fooled to this day, hunting for a movie that doesn’t exist. Those poor souls. Pray for them.
There has been talk about a new film series based on the books and if they are done in a Shane Black-Nice Guys–Kiss Kiss Bang Bang-kind of way then I think they’d be successful. Doing them as period pieces would work for at least the first 5 or 6 books, if you’re doing them chronologically. Jason Sudeikis was lined up to possibly play Fletch and that didn’t really light a fire of excitement with me. Now Jon Hamm seems to be pushing forward with a Fletch film and that doesn’t seem like a slam dunk either.
Also since Gregory McDonald passed away in 2008, that sadly meant the end of the possibility of any further Fletch novels from the original author as well.
“It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am NOT a big man.”
The whole of Fletch Lives definitely makes up for the parts. I think Chase was never better than he was in 1989. Yes, Ty Webb is funny in Caddyshack and is the only redeemable part of the bomb crater that is Caddyshack II. Clark Griswold is great in the first and third Vacation movies but certainly disappointing in the other Vacation movies. But as Fletch, Chase was untouchable. His ability to react to moments as well as cause situations by portraying a myriad of different characters is great in both Fletch features.
Hell, given the unmemorable crap that the Academy has awarded in the past, give Chevy a retroactive statue for Fletch and Fletch Lives already! I think that Claude Henry Smoot is a better realized character than most not-actually-an-investigative-report-in-disguise-as-a-faith-healer roles! I would pay to see an entire movie based on Smoot. I’ll even spring for a gazebo to make it happen!
“I was on my gazebo, on the roof, making some repairs, and I was struck by lightning…and I’ve had migraine headaches and blurred vision ever since then but praise the Lord that was my lucky day because ever since then, I’ve had the healing power. Amen, God bless you. Thank you very much. Good night.”