80’s Trash of the Week: Fletch Lives

Fletch was a huge hit; Chevy Chase took the newsman character from Gregory McDonald’s novels and amped up the laughs, and the sequel went even further and became a pure Chevy Chase disguise comedy. As a fan of the books I was cruel to it upon release, but co-worker The Mouth from the South and fellow blogger Dylan both defend this movie, so I wanted to revisit it.

“The spiders is good! They eat up the cockroaches!”

The first movie had lots of laughs, but the thriller plotline and Fletch’s desire to be a good reporter and ferret out injustice remained. The sequel goes more for laughs, and shoehorns in a plot involving toxic waste, which would be an early ’90s staple; in that way, Fletch Lives is again of its time. The story is, Fletch heads South to inherit his aunt’s plantation, tended by groundskeeper Calculus Entropy, played by Cleavon Little. He has a small part but is very memorable, as expected. He’s the real reason I watched this again, but if you watch it as just another Chevy Chase comedy, it’s actually one of his better ones.

Ben Dover

The minute Fletch shows up down South, his lawyer gal gets offed while they sleep and he’s the prime suspect in the eyes of the inept yet corrupt local police, who throw him in a cell with Randall “Tex” Cobb. Most famous for playing the incomparable Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona, here he’s got eye make-up on and gives the film one of its funnier scenes, as he tries to introduce Fletch to the charming institution of prison rape. He gets to have more fun later as the leader of the biker gang the Nazis from Natchez, where Fletch pretends to be Ed Harley, of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. That scene works well too. Chase is just so ridiculous as an effeminate and nerdy dork walking into a biker bar that I had to laugh.

Ed Harley.

Later the Klan shows up, led by Geoffrey Lewis- Clint’s buddy from the orangutan films- and Fletch cuts eyeholes in a bedsheet to goof on them. Someone wants to drive him away and get his auntie’s land, and that leads him to TV preacher Jimmy Lee Farnsworth, played by R. Lee Ermey with all his bushy-eyebrow glory. Ermey plays the role straight, and we get our laughs from Fletch’s impersonation of Claude Smoot, a buck-toothed faith healer whose specialty is smacking the demons out of your forehead.
Better yet is how Fletch inspects the scene of the murder, by putting on a pompadour and driving his Aunt’s decrepit pink Cadillac as a sort of rockabilly exterminator. When the dumbass deputy follows him in, he tricks him into thinking a skitterbug, which reproduces by masturbation, has gotten into his ear and the only way to get it out is to get on all fours and squeal like a pig. It just wouldn’t be the ’80s if a comedy went South and didn’t goof on the Klan, slavery, Deliverance, the Civil War, evangelists and corrupt lawmen, and this one has its ducks all lined in a row. Set in Louisiana, they pronounce Pontchartrain right, and they eat Zapp’s chips. Not as bad as it could be.
Cutey Julianne Phillips tags along as a lawyer trying to get Fletch to sell the estate to an unknown client, and Hal Holbrook plays the genteel Southern gentleman. The last 15 minutes feel like they were scribbled on a bar napkin; everything gets resolved as quickly as possible. That and Fletch’s silly Song of the South dream sequence at the beginning sour an otherwise enjoyable comedy, which reminded me of just how funny Chevy Chase could be. Nothing against Uncle Remus either, but it just wasn’t funny, and would fit better in a Lampoon flick.

R. Lee Ermey and Julianne Phillips

Okay Blog Cabins and Mouth from the South- you got me. This one is better than I remember, and doesn’t deserve the crap it gets. But I still think Ghostbusters 2 sucked. Apparently they want to reboot the Fletch franchise, so who do you think will get it? Let’s hope it’s not Jim Carrey.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It will be…
Quotability Rating: Nice to meet you Ben. Victor Hugo.
Cheese Factor: smothered & covered
High Points: Biker bar scene
Low Point: Ending
Gratuitous Boobies: Victim of the 1989 boobie drought


12 Angry Menses

I’ve been an angry panda lately. Work hasn’t “moved my cheese” to use that idiotic analogy, but they swapped gruyere for a particularly stinky brand of fromunda. I had to get my car repaired and it got delayed, I just got a traffic ticket- first in 15 years. So I’m trying to get like Peter from Office Space and let it all go, before I turn into Gollum and start raving about how I hate the tricksy Bagginses.

But there’s a place in the world for the angry young man, according to Mr. Joel. Here are my favorite dozen who make anger into an art form.

12. Michael Bolton in Office Space
We all like to think we’re righteous when we’re angry, but most of the time we’re just stressed out doofuses like Mike. Maybe we need to smash a printer with a baseball bat? Whatever it takes. No point in being miserable when you can take it out on inanimate objects. Just don’t play any music by that long-haired balladeer around him, or you might find your checking account drained.

11. Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda

Don’t call him stupid. Otto may be a true vulgarian, and if you got the hots for Jamie Lee Curtis he’ll tell you to “pork away, pal!” but insulting his intellect will get you hung out of a window. Sure, he may think the central tenet of Buddhism is “every man for himself,” and Plato is that colorful clay you get in the toy section, but he’s a crack shot with both an insult and a silenced 9mm. Just don’t let him near your fish tank. Asshoooole!

10. Howard Beale in Network
He was mad as hell and he wasn’t gonna take it anymore! Don’t we all want to say that? Well, remember that at the end of the movie he gets shot to boost ratings. Everyone forgets that part. But he had a good run there, and he got his message across.

9. Samuel L. Jackson in anything
Admittedly I have a soft spot for Jules in Pulp Fiction, because he’s trying to deal with his anger. He’s tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd, and not the tyranny of evil men who shoot whiny little white boys. Dave Chapelle made a side business in goofing on how Jackson was always angry in his movies, and even in some of the really good and lesser known ones like The Caveman’s Valentine and The Red Violin, he’s got the angry face going on. Someday he’ll be as typecast as Pacino. Actually wouldn’t it be awesome if they switched parts, and Pacino had to get motherfuckin’ snakes off a motherfuckin’ plane, and Jackson got to be the Devil, or yell in court a lot?

8. Bobby De Niro in Midnight Run
“And I’ve got two words for you, shut the fuck up!” Jack Walsh is an angry bounty hunter. He’s an impatient man whose family doesn’t want to put up with him. Charles Grodin, whose shtick is being a grump, gives the best role of his career by letting Bobby be the angry guy, and drive him crazy. The only guy angrier in this is Dennis Farina, and…

7. Dennis Farina in Snatch.
Dennis Farina was so angry in Midnight Run that they brought him back as the angry mobster for Get Shorty, and then Snatch. He has a true gift at channeling rage from someplace in his bowels that no one should contemplate. Whether he’s threatening to stab someone in the heart with a fuckin’ pencil, or beating the shit out of Gene Hackman with a phone, or guzzling Alka-Seltzer while chasing a stolen diamond, he’s one of cinema’s best angry men. And take his advice, don’t go to England.

6. Momma from Throw Momma from the Train
Anne Ramsey was a classic, and there’ll never be another one like her. Whether she was putting Chuck’s hand in a blender in The Goonies or tormenting Billy Crystal and Danny De Vito here, her gravelly voice was an unforgettable part of the ’80s. Here she’s the grumpiest old woman alive, and you’d better not bring her the unsalted peanuts. They make her choke.

5. Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Steve Martin used to be funny too, and this is one of his funniest movies. The scene at the car rental desk is a classic, and his apoplectic rage at John Candy never fails to make me smile. Just watch the video, he looks like he’s about to explode into a fireball and destroy the rental lot..

4. Jack Nicholson in The Shining
This has entered the national consicousness for the crazy “Here’s Johnny!” scene, but the rise up to it is so much better. “Wendy… love of my life… I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just gonna bash your brains in. Bash ’em right-the-fuck-in.” Scatman Crothers didn’t have a chance, and he was Hong Kong Phooey, number one superdog. Nicholson’s been angry before, as a pissy pianist in Five Easy Pieces who carves a waitress a new asshole, and since, as the Colonel in A Few Good Men, when he told us we can’t handle the truth. But Jack Torrance will always be what he’s remembered for most. He axed his way into our hearts.

3. Ed Norton in 25th Hour

This is more hate than anger, but he certainly hit a nerve because this scene is every white trash Brooklyn boy’s favorite. When you fuck up and there’s no one to blame but yourself, and the fury bubbles from your belly looking for someone to blame, this is the ultimate portrayal of what happens when you want to take it out on the world (or at least New York City).

2. Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada
Angry isn’t always about histrionics. Angry women in cinema are usually cold, seething pots of rage. (Maybe it’s dry ice in the pot, so it can be cold. So don’t fuck with my horrible metaphor). In this movie she’s a demanding boss from hell, but she knows what she wants. Whether it’s a Smith & Wollensky steak or an advance proof of a Harry Potter book, you’d better be shitting her Tiffany cufflinks or her eyes will bore holes through your abdomen and make your innards spill out onto your cheap shoes.

1. R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket

I don’t think a drill instructor is really that angry- it’s an act to break you down. But Gunnery Sergrant Hartmann has enough rage to power several large cities in this movie. The man is a nuclear power plant of fury, he’s like if you distilled Phil Silvers into a form of heroin, and R. Lee Ermey speedballs it with snorts of powdered Tony Montana from Scarface. Even as an old man, he’s terrifying onscreen. It’s worse now that he has eyebrows like angry badgers snarling from his brow.

Okay now you might have your own favorites but these are mine. Who’s your favorite angry person?