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

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