The film revolves around Los Angeles Times reporter Irwin M. "Fletch" Fletcher (Chevy Chase), who is offered a large sum of money to kill a millionaire with a terminal cancer prognosis. Fletch becomes suspicious when he discovers the man is not ill, and when he continues to investigate his life is threatened.
In the 1970s, Burt Reynolds and Mick Jagger were considered to portray Fletch but these suggestions were rejected by Mcdonald. The author agreed to the casting of Chevy Chase despite never seeing the comedian in anything. Chase reportedly enjoyed the role because it allowed him to play several different characters and work with props. In a 2004 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Chase confirmed this was his favorite role.
Los Angeles Times reporter Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher (Chase) is writing an article exposing drug trafficking on the beaches of Los Angeles. Posing as an addict during his investigation, he is approached by Boyd Aviation executive vice president Alan Stanwyk (Matheson) who mistakenly assumes Fletch is a junkie. Stanwyk claims to have bone cancer, with only months left to live, and wishes to avoid the pain and suffering. Stanwyk offers $50,000 for Fletch to come to his mansion in a few days time, kill him, and then escape to Rio de Janeiro, staging the murder to look like a burglary.
Fletch, while not completely convinced on the truth of Stanwyk's story, reluctantly agrees to the plan. Along with his colleague Larry (Davis), he begins investigating Stanwyk instead of completing his drug trafficking exposé, much to the disapproval of his overbearing editor Frank Walker (Libertini). Disguised as a doctor, Fletch accesses Stanwyk's file at the hospital and learns Stanwyk lied about having cancer.
Fletch visits Stanwyk's wife Gail (Wheeler-Nicholson) at her tennis club. Pretending to be a tennis instructor and friend of Alan's, he flirts with her during an impromptu tennis lesson. Looking into Stanwyk's finances, Fletch finds that Gail recently converted $3 million of her personal stock in Boyd Aviation into cash for her husband, to buy a ranch in Provo, Utah. Fletch breaks into the realtor's office and discovers the deed lists the sale price as only $3,000.
Meanwhile, LAPD Chief Jerry Karlin (Baker) learns of Fletch's drug article. He warns Fletch that the article will jeopardize his undercover operation on the beach. Karlin threatens to kill Fletch unless he agrees to drop the investigation. At the tennis club, Fletch overhears an arrogant club member, Mr. Underhill, insulting a waiter and decides to use Underhill's tab to treat Gail to an expensive lunch in her private cabana. Fletch reveals Alan's murder scheme to her and tells her the true price of the ranch.
Fletch watches Stanwyk making a suspicious briefcase exchange with Chief Karlin, but is unable to determine the nature of their relationship. He returns home to find LAPD officers lying in wait at his apartment. He flees, but is pursued in a harrowing car chase. Forced to go into hiding, Fletch returns to Provo. Posing as an insurance investigator, he interviews Stanwyk's parents. Fletch discovers Stanwyk has been secretly married to another woman for eight years; his bigamous marriage to Gail allowed him access to her personal wealth.
Fletch arrives at Stanwyk's mansion on the night of the planned murder, but finds Stanwyk prepared to kill him instead. Fletch reveals his discovery of Stanwyk's real plan: to fake his own death by killing Fletch and burning his body beyond recognition, then escape to Brazil with his first wife and Gail's $3 million. Stanwyk was also using his private jet to smuggle cocaine from South America to supply Chief Karlin, who blackmailed ex-convicts to peddle it on the beaches. Karlin arrives unexpectedly; learning of Stanwyk's intention to flee with $800,000 of the Chief's drug money, he kills Stanwyk. Karlin and Fletch fight over the gun until Gail strikes Karlin from behind, rendering him unconscious.
Karlin is indicted with Fletch's testimony. Fletch begins dating Gail and, in the final scene, takes her on a vacation to Rio, again using Mr. Underhill's tab.Chevy Chase as Irwin M. "Fletch" Fletcher
Joe Don Baker as Chief Jerry Karlin
Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as Gail Stanwyk
Richard Libertini as Frank Walker
Geena Davis as Larry
Larry "Flash" Jenkins as Gummy
Tim Matheson as Alan Stanwyk
M. Emmet Walsh as Dr. Joseph Dolan
George Wendt as Fat Sam
Kenneth Mars as Stanton Boyd
George Wyner as Marvin Gillet
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Himself
Chick Hearn as Himself
William Sanderson as Jim Swarthout
Gregory Mcdonald's Fletch books were optioned around the mid to late 1970s, but the author retained the right to veto casting choices. He rejected both Burt Reynolds and Mick Jagger as Fletch. When the studio mentioned Chevy Chase as Fletch, Mcdonald agreed, although he had never seen Chase perform.
When producer Alan Greisman and screenwriter Andrew Bergman got involved, Chase agreed to do it. Mcdonald sent Chase a telegram saying, "I am delighted to abdicate the role of Fletch to you."
Bergman was hired to adapt McDonald's book into screenplay form. Bergman remembers that he wrote the screenplay "very fast – I did the first draft in four weeks... Then there was a certain amount of improv, and something that we used to call dial-a-joke." Phil Alden Robinson also did some uncredited work on the script.
Mcdonald read the script and was angered by the deviations from his original text. He wrote to the studio and listed his many objections. Director Ritchie invited Mcdonald to the set of the film, and took him out to dinner where, according to Mcdonald, "Point by point, he showed me where I was wrong. I was beautifully chewed out."
Filming started in May 1984.
According to actor Tim Matheson, Fletch was the first film Chase did after cleaning up his drug problem. However, the studio hired director Michael Ritchie to keep Chase in check. During principal photography, Ritchie would do one take sticking close to the script and then another take allowing Chase to ad-lib.
Chase enjoyed the role because it allowed him to play a wide variety of different characters. He said in an interview, "I love props, like wigs and buck-teeth and glasses. At one point I wear an Afro and play basketball with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. There were some scenes where I didn't recognize myself." The comedian enjoyed working with director Ritchie because he gave him the freedom to improvise: "It all began when [costar] Tim Matheson asked me what my name was. Right away, with a straight face: 'Ted Nugent'."
Chase recalls Ritchie as "Very intelligent. Very Tall (6'7"?) Trusting; allowing me so much freedom. Fine Filmmaker!"
"Chevy was very hot," recalled Bergman. "And the great thing was that Universal always thought Fletch was a hit movie, and they treated it like a hit, even when the first previews weren’t that good. They never got frightened. They just said this is a hit, they were selling it like a hit, and then it was a hit. That was a very fun project."
The narration was added during post production.
- Stephanie Mills - "Bit by Bit (Theme from Fletch)" 3:38
- Dan Hartman - "Fletch, Get Outta Town" 4:11
- John Farnham - "Running for Love" 2:54
- Dan Hartman - "Name of the Game" 6:02
- Harold Faltermeyer - "Fletch Theme" 3:48
- The Fixx - "A Letter to Both Sides" 3:20
- Kim Wilde - "Is It Over" 3:52
- Harold Faltermeyer - "Diggin' In" 2:44
- Harold Faltermeyer - "Exotic Skates" 3:00
- Harold Faltermeyer - "Running for Love" [instrumental] 2:44
Fletch was released on May 31, 1985, in 1,225 theaters, debuting at second place behind Rambo: First Blood Part II with a gross of $7 million. It went on to make $50.6 million in North America and $9 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $59.6 million. The film performed well on home video, earning $24.4 million in rentals.
Fletch received generally positive reviews and has a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 28 critics with the consensus: "Quotably funny -- and fast-paced enough to smooth over the jokes that don't land -- Fletch is one of the best big-screen vehicles for Chevy Chase's brand of smug silliness". Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "The problem is, Chase's performance tends to reduce all the scenes to the same level, at least as far as he is concerned. He projects such an inflexible mask of cool detachment, of ironic running commentary, that we're prevented from identifying with him . . . Fletch needed an actor more interested in playing the character than in playing himself." Vincent Canby in his review for The New York Times praised Chase's performance, writing, "He manages simultaneously to act the material with a good deal of nonchalance and to float above it, as if he wanted us to know that he knows that the whole enterprise is somewhat less than transcendental." Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "In Fletch, the quick, smartly paced, gags somehow read as signs of vulnerability. Incidentally, they add greatly to the movie's suspense. Every minute you expect the hero's loose lip to be turned into a fat one." In his review for the Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr wrote, "Chase and Ritchie make a strong, natural combination: the union of their two flip, sarcastic personalities produces a fairly definitive example of the comic style of the 80s, grounded in detachment, underreaction, and cool contempt for rhetorically overblown authority figures."
Fletch became a cult film. In an interview for the New York Post, Bergman tried to explain its appeal: "It's so bizarre, but Fletch strikes a chord. There's a group of movies like that in the '80s, like Caddyshack, too, that captured a certain wise-ass thing." In particular, the film appeals to college students who have asked Chase to talk about it at film classes. The actor has said that the appeal of the character is "the cheekiness of the guy. . . everybody at that age would like to be as quick-witted as Fletch, and as uncaring about what others think." Chase has said that this film is his favorite to date because "it allowed me to be myself. Fletch was the first one with me really winging it. Even though there was a script, the director allowed me to just go, and in many ways, I was directing the comedy." Perhaps the most meaningful praise comes from Mcdonald himself: "I watched it recently, and I think Chevy and Michael Ritchie did a good job with it." The film was voted as the 23rd best film set in Los Angeles in the last 25 years by a group of Los Angeles Times writers and editors with two criteria: "The movie had to communicate some inherent truth about the L.A. experience, and only one film per director was allowed on the list." The 2005 animated feature Hoodwinked depicted the Big Bad Wolf (from Little Red Riding Hood) as a sarcastic investigative reporter in a direct parody of Fletch, right up to the Lakers shirt, disguises, and a version of Fletch's theme playing during his scenes.
Fletch was originally released on DVD in 1998, but that release quickly went out of print. Universal Home Video re-released a special edition of Fletch - the "Jane Doe" Edition on May 1, 2007. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, along with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track and includes the retrospective featurettes, "Just Charge It to the Underhills: Making and Remembering Fletch," "From John Coctoastan To Harry S. Truman: The Disguises" and "Favorite Fletch Moments." IGN felt that this version was a decent replacement for anyone who still owned the film on VHS but for "anyone seeking more than that will be sadly disappointed by the ill-executed extras and slap-dash sound upgrade."
Additionally, the film was also the next-to-last to be released by Universal on the HD DVD format, March 11, 2008, and later released on Blu-ray disc on June 2, 2009.
The film was followed by a 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives.
A follow-up to Fletch Lives had been discussed in the 90s at Universal Studios. During his association with Universal after the production of Mallrats (this was because Gramercy Pictures, which released Mallrats, was co-owned by Universal), Kevin Smith expressed interest in doing a third "Fletch" film as a sequel starring Chevy Chase but it never came to fruition. In June 2000, it was announced that Kevin Smith was set to write and direct a Fletch film at Miramax Films, after the rights to the books, which Universal Studios had owned, reverted. At the time, Miramax co-head Harvey Weinstein expressed the hope that a new Fletch series would be "Miramax Films' first-ever series."
After a disagreement between Chase and Smith in regard to differing levels of priority for the sequel project, Smith settled on adapting Fletch Won, which follows Fletch in his early years as newspaper junior reporter. Smith intended to follow the novel's plot and characters much more closely than earlier Fletch films had. Filming the prequel/origin story would have allowed Smith to make the movie without Chase while still leaving the door open for him to appear in a cameo role in framing scenes and/or as narrator. Around this time, Smith mentioned Jason Lee and Ben Affleck as possible choices to play Fletch.
In August 2003, it was reported that the film was set to start shooting in January, with Smith still at the helm. Though Smith insisted on casting Lee in the lead role, Miramax head Harvey Weinstein refused to take a chance on Lee, citing the general inability of his films to gross more than $30 million at the box office. The role of Fletch remained uncast, with Smith considering a list of actors including Affleck, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and Jimmy Fallon. Though Smith considered compromising and casting Zach Braff in the role, he eventually left the project in October 2005.
Smith was replaced as writer/director by Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, in what would have been his directorial debut. He had enthused, "Not only can I recite the original Fletch movie line for line, I actually read all the Greg Mcdonald books as a kid. Consider me obsessed — I'm going to try as hard as I can not to screw this up." Lawrence was signed to direct both Fletch Won and a sequel. Scrubs star Zach Braff was rumored to be in talks for the lead role, and in January 2007, Braff posted on his web site that "Bill Lawrence is writing and directing Fletch in the spring and he wants me to play young Fletch, but no firm plans are in place yet. He is still writing the script." In April 2007, Braff announced that he had dropped out of the film to work on his own film, Open Hearts. In June 2007, it was announced that Lawrence was off the project and had been replaced by Steve Pink.
In 2011, rights to the project were purchased by Warner Brothers, who requested screenplays from several writers that turned out to be unsuitable. In 2013, David List, who represents the McDonald estate, stepped in with his own draft which proved attractive enough to engage Jason Sudeikis in the title role. The studio signed off on the screenplay, described as more of a "gritty action comedy with heart", and has begun looking for a director.