Irwin Fletcher (Chevy Chase) prefers to be known as Fletch, although often he'll make up an alias on the spot because he is an investigative journalist working for a Los Angeles newspaper. For the past two weeks for his "Jane Doe" column he has been working undercover at one of the less salubrious beaches in the area, tracking the trade of illegal drugs and believing he might be on to a major scandal. But as he builds up his case he is stopped under the boardwalk by a well dressed man, Stanwyck (Tim Matheson), who offers him a thousand dollars to accompany him back to his home - it's not what you think.
What it is turns out to be a proposition for Fletch, who Stanwyk has no doubt is an actual vagrant, that he should murder his new benefactor for a lot of money and a ticket to Rio to hide out for a while. Understandably suspicious of this, Fletch asks why and gets a line about Stanwyk being terminally ill and not wanting to commit suicide because it would forfeit his life insurance policy he needs to make it seem as if he has been killed in a bungled break-in. But as you may have expected, all is not as it seems in this, the adaptation of Gregory McDonald's popular series of detective novels for whom the author himself thought Chevy Chase would be ideal.
And he wasn't wrong: Chase claimed it was his favourite of his performances and for many it was the vehicle which suited him best, with the flippant attitude he would put across a perfect fit for the sort of mystery thriller where you could take it as seriously as you wished, and if you didn't take it seriously you would probably get along with it a lot better. At times this relentless adherence to irreverence would verge rather too close to insincerity, and anyone wanting an exposé of, say, police corruption or the problems of Los Angeles' underclass would be directed to another movie, for though those elements, among others, were a concern in the plot, they weren't especially a concern beyond it.
At times Fletch translated as the Chevy Chase variety hour-and-a-half, with him adopting a variety of personas in his search for the truth, leaving a feeling of watching a big screen sketch comedy where the actual detective work was very much secondary to delivering the gags. The impression was that as a viewer you were always on the look out for the next laugh instead of the next suspense scene, with everyone in the cast Chase's straight man as he won the lion's share of the funny lines. Although it went without saying if you found him resistable (well, he does have a reputation) then you were not going to get on with this film as well as if you seen Caddyshack and wanted more of that tall guy.
So much did Chase hog the limelight here that you could almost forget anyone else was in this, but there was an interesting cast who struggled to make themselves apparent when faced with the Chevy charm offensive. Appearing as the love interest was Dana Wheeler-Nicholson playing Stanwyk's wife who has good reason to turn against her husband, and soon to be a major star Geena Davis as Fletch's co-worker whom she manages to suggest harbours a crush on him without making her seem pathetic and lovelorn - she was obviously headed for bigger things. Joe Don Baker essayed one of his villainous roles as the Chief of Police, underlining the anti-authoritarian mood to the story and more evidently Fletch's attitudes, an aspect which hasn't dated at all, if anything it seems all the more relevant, and in addition there were a host of recognsiable actors including a rare sighting of a restrained Kenneth Mars. With a quip for every occasion, Chase kept this light and entertaining. Music, with seriously catchy theme, by Harold Faltermeyer.
American director, from television, whose films of the 1970s showed an interesting, sardonic take on America. After sour skiing drama Downhill Racer, he had an unhappy experience on the bizarre Prime Cut before a run of acclaimed movies: political satire The Candidate, the excellent Smile, coarse comedy The Bad News Bears, and another sporting comedy Semi-Tough.