Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The beat goes on: Confess, Fletch

One would assume, given a soundtrack album laden with iconic classics by Horace Silver, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon and many others, that this film score is saturated with jazz.

Well … not exactly. But more on that in a bit.


Beloved literary characters rarely get a second chance, if their debut leap to the big screen is sabotaged by arrogant studio execs catering to the whims of a Hot Star Of The Moment.


Consider author Lawrence Block’s gentleman cat burglar/detective, Bernie Rhodenbarr, who became Bernice when Whoopi Goldberg wound up starring in 1987’s absolutely dreadful Burglar. No surprise, Bernie’s subsequent adventures have remained within the safe confines of two covers.


Then there’s Chevy Chase, who initially seemed an ideal choice as Gregory McDonald’s rogue investigative journalist, Irwin Maurice Fletcher; in fairness, 1985’s Fletch was tolerable. But the deplorable 1989 sequel succumbed to Chase’s disguise-overkill vanity, and the character subsequently languished in development hell.


Until now.


Jon Hamm is spot-on as Fletch in this new film, radiating grizzled charm and just enough snark; his comic timing is well-suited to this amusing script’s many cheeky, insubordinate and downright smart-assed one-liners. 


The story opens in Rome, where Fletch has become engaged to the voluptuous Angela de Grassi (Lorenza Izzo), whose father has been kidnapped; the ransom demand is a Picasso from the Count’s famed art collection. Unfortunately, other parties unknown have stolen the entire collection, which leaves Angela frantic. 


She asks Fletch to liaise with an art broker in Boston, where the Picasso is rumored to have surfaced. He duly flies to Boston, arriving late in the evening; he walks into the apartment Angela has arranged for his stay … and discovers a dead woman in the living room.


Fletch duly calls the police, and finds himself in the cynical cross-hairs of Inspector Morris Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and his recently minted partner, Griz (Ayden Mayeri). The former, genuinely puzzled when Fletch stubbornly refuses to confess to what seems an obvious case of murder, nonetheless has no obvious evidence to hold his prime suspect. This leaves Fletch free to pursue the Picasso, while also trying to figure out who did kill the young woman.

Additional key characters include high-end art broker Ronald Horan (Kyle MacLachlan), who promises to suss out his contacts; Frank Jaffe (John Slattery), Fletch’s former newspaper editor; and Fletch’s soon-to-be mother-in-law, the Countess Sylvia de Grassi (Marcia Gay Harden).


The plot isn’t particularly deep, and the shortage of potential suspects makes the outcome fairly easy to anticipate. This is a case where the journey is more important — and entertaining — than the destination.

The score per se is by David Arnold, working with a sizeable jazz band … but he gets very little room to stretch. Director Greg Mottola is oddly parsimonious with music, limiting Arnold’s efforts to a handful of brief jazz vamps; the contributions from Horace Silver et al are equally fleeting, often present as barely audible source cues. Where’s the respect?


The title credits unspool against “Nessuno,” a jaunty bossa/jazz pop tune made famous by Italian-Swiss actress chanteuse Mina, in the 1960 film Urlatori alla sbarra, released in the States as Howlers of the Dock. (This tune isn’t included on the soundtrack album; more’s the pity.) A few bars of Trombone Shorty’s “Dirty Water” can just be heard a bit later, as background music while Fletch and Angela make love.


Arnold supplies an energetic little jazz vamp when Fletch, now in Monroe’s crosshairs, cleverly eludes a vehicular tail; and a second, similarly lively vamp when Fletch “borrows” a van for illicit purposes. Somewhat later, Vintage Trouble’s “Before the Tear Drops” can be heard (barely) when Fletch and Jaffe lament the good ol’ days of journalism, while sipping drinks in a bar.


The film’s best running gag is the way Fletch constantly evades Griz’s efforts to keep an eye on him; Astrud Gilberto and Walter Wanderley’s “Portuguese Washerwoman” backs Fletch’s cheeky use of the classic elevator dodge. Arnold supplies a cool horn cue, backed by swinging percussion, when Fletch follows Horan to a high-end outdoor party; the live music is supplied by The Hot Sardines, an animated New York City-based jazz sextet that rocks through “Let’s Go,” a tune from their 2014 album, Frolicking at the Playground.


Back in his apartment, a snatch of Chet Baker’s “Let’s Get Lost” is faintly heard in the background, as Fletch obtains information from a key police report. Silver’s “SeƱor Blues” is more audible a bit later, when Angela and her mother decide to cook dinner for the three of them; Chet Baker’s “Stella by Starlight” follows while they enjoy the meal.

Once the case is solved, Fletch’s final encounter with Griz is backed by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin.” The screen goes dark for the end credits; Arnold and his orchestra finally get to deliver an uninterrupted 3:04 blast of big band swing. 


Where was that in the rest of the movie?

The Blue Note soundtrack album includes only three of Arnold’s cues; fortunately, one of them is the marvelous end credits swinger, titled “Picasso.”