Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Don't mess with the Fletch, boy, you'll get Our Man in LA

Howdy, everyone. Just in case you wondered if I could do this two days in a row . . . I can. There. Ha!

So anyway, my pal Doc Noel and I were talking via e-mail today, and he brought to my attention this here link from Slate magazine:

In it, the writer, whose name I've already forgotten and don't feel like looking up, derides the mid-80s Chevy Chase movie FLETCH as being horrific and awful, a relection of the Reagan era seeping into entertainment.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I loved FLETCH as a kid, read all of Gregory MacDonald's FLETCH books, and that even now, I could probably quote the whole movie to you . . . close to verbatim. But to be fair to the writer, I'll also admit that there are a number of gags in that movie that fall totally flat now and probably should have then.

That's not my issue. My issue is that I don't think the writer quite understood the movie. He equated it with ANIMAL HOUSE, WEDDING CRASHERS, and a couple of other films in the "Wacky and Wild Comedy" vein, but he missed . . . wait for it . . . wait . . .

The subtlety.

OK, I know that sounds ridiculous. But look, folks. When in film school at the University of Texas (go Longhorns), one of my crowning academic acheivements was my paper NERDS, ANIMALS, AND OUTCASTS, a whopping 42-page genre study of movies like ANIMAL HOUSE, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, and so on. The paper got a lot of praise from the film faculty, who lauded my outright bravery at having the guts to look into the dark heart of this unexamined genre.

To me, the major benefit was getting to watch ANIMAL HOUSE again, not to mention getting to present my paper to peers and faculty. You haven't lived till you've seen hardcore film students react to Gilbert from REVENGE OF THE NERDS say, "Join us, because nobody will ever truly be free until nerd persecution ends."

So anyway, Slate guy missed the point. Here's a contrasting contention about FLETCH's role in the cinema of the 80s, courtesy of Our Man in LA, reprinted with the assumed consent of Doc Noel:

Hadn’t seen this, but I’d have to agree with you – he didn’t get it. On a number of counts, I’d argue. Not the least of which is that I don’t think the movie ever says straight out that Stanwyk is a Mormon. He’s from Utah, yeah (along with Marvin, Velma, and Provo). He’s a bigamist, yeah. But he also makes reference to drinking, which Mormons don’t do. There’s one line – “making him a bigamist, even in Utah” which sort of winks at the Mormon tradition, but again I don’t know if I’d see this as an anti-Mormon text.

I also don’t know if I’d qualify this as a polemic for the Reagan admin, either. I always took it more as a semi-straight adaptation of Gregory MacDonald’s mystery novel with a lot of Chevy Chase-esque sight gags and disguises. Chase had gags like this in a lot of his movies of this period – Spies Like Us, Oh Heavely Dog . . .

Also, I think the writer makes a big mistake equating Fletch with Animal House or Wedding Crashers. And by the way, I don’t think Wedding Crashers is in exactly the same category as Animal House, either. Wedding Crashers is a lot like Stripes, actually. Two wacky guys (who don’t quite fit in to polite society) are placed in an atmosphere where they’re most likely to struggle, and eventually they succeed because they don’t quite fit in. Those two movies are much closer to the screwball comedy model – that’s my opinion, but I’m fairly certain that even 10 years after grad school I could put together a pretty quick and dirty genre study that backs me up.

Animal House is more of a group narrative, and it’s not really about liberalism, either. And while we’re at it, the Omegas don’t exactly qualify as Eastern liberals being cut up by pre-Reaganite Deltas. Neidermeyer’s a fascist. Marmalard’s a future Nixon White House guy. Meanwhile, Flounder will later be a hippie “encounter specialist”, Pinto is the editor of National Lampoon, and the 20 years later mockumentary tells us that Boon’s a doc filmmaker and basically, Bluto is Bill Clinton.

Not to mention the fact that no, the Deltas aren’t fighting for their right to party as much as they’re fighting back against being under the thumb of their oppressors. Paraphrasing my own argument from a million years ago, Animal House (and to a lesser extent, Revenge of the Nerds and dozens of other take-offs) are no less about the rise of the underclass over artistocratic oppressors than, say, something like Animal Farm. In one, it’s pigs and sheep. In another, it’s jocks and Belushi.

But I totally digress.

Anyway, I’d suggest that while some of Fletch’s gags don’t hold up and yes, are fairly lame, the writer’s still mis-classified the movie. Fletch is an action movie with a comedian in the lead. It belongs with Running Scared and Beverly Hills Cop, not Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds. So the agenda’s a lot different. Fletch is telling the story of the knight that slays the dragon, more or less. His dragon is the drug ring of Chief Karlin and Alan Stanwyk. His trapped princess is Mrs. Stanwyk.

Just like Running Scared has two knights who are funny and wise-cracking and who defeat the dragon played by Jimmy Smits and rescue . . . whoever played Billy Crystal’s ex-wife. And so on. They’re straight-up adventure narratives, with a comedian in the lead, and without the pyrotechnics that would later define things like Lethal Weapon.

But Lethal Weapon’s part of the same category, though that might sound crazy. Take away the big explosions and pyrotechnics, but keep around Riggs and Murtaugh, and basically, you’ve got a movie like Fletch or Beverly Hills Cop.

And even though I’ve spent a ridiculously long amount of space on this, why not go a bit further? What do all of those movies (Fletch, Running Scared, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon) have in common? A lot. 1) A heroic do-gooder (or two) who fights the good fight in often unorthodox ways; 2) a hero’s boss, who’s itching to take the guy down a notch (Fletch’s editor Frank, the Captain in Running Scared, and so on); 3) A nasty villain who seems to be getting away with his nefarious plan; 4) A certain amount of light detective work to keep the plot spinning; 5) A big fight sequence at the end with some pyrotechnics; and 6) a lady in distress, who needs to be saved by the knight.

Oh yeah, and 7) at the end, no matter how much trouble the hero should be in because of his (or their) wacky yet effective methods, he (or they) receive a total reprieve for everything. Think of Fletch giving his expenses to Frank and going on vacation on Mr. Underhill’s charge card. Or of the Beverly Hills cops letting Axel Foley off the hook. And . . . and . . . and . . .

Yeah, I went to film school.

See you later, true believers.


may i say on behalf of all your blog readers: welcome back. reading posts like that are what we've missing out on. kudos to you and doc noel for the analysis.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?