Jon Hamm’s debonair charm and imposing intensity were front-and-center throughout Mad Men’s seven-season run, and in the years since, he’s also exhibited—be it in movies like Keeping with the Joneses or guest spots on 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Curb Your Enthusiasm—a distinctly goofy sense of humor.
Still, despite his diverse skill set and marquee good looks, he’s yet to find an ideal big-screen leading part—until, that is, Confess, Fletch, a reboot of the film franchise made famous in the 1980s by Chevy Chase that provides him with the role he was born to play.
There have been numerous attempts over the years to revive the series, which was based on Gregory Mcdonald’s eleven novels featuring Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher. It’s with great fortune that Hamm is the one who finally succeeded.
Eschewing Chase’s daffy cartoonishness for a more sardonic air of unflappable confidence and disguise-wielding cleverness, Hamm turns out to be a perfect Fletch. Wearing the character’s trademark Lakers baseball cap and white sneakers—when, that is, he’s not taking his shoes off to parade around in bare feet, much to everyone else’s discomfort—Hamm is at once clueless and cool, scheming and spontaneous, flying by the seat of his pants and totally sure of himself. He’s an amateur sleuth of keen intellect, quick wit, and borderline-foolish cockiness, diving headfirst into trouble with a poised, smirking certainty that invariably gets him into trouble—and also leads to results.
Directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad), Confess, Fletch (in theaters and on VOD now; on Showtime on October 28) is based on Mcdonald’s novel of the same name, and picks up with Fletch—now a former investigative reporter “of some repute”—as he arrives at a rented Boston townhouse where a murdered woman is waiting for him in the middle of the downstairs floor. This makes him an immediate potential culprit to detective “Slow-Mo” Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and his partner Griz (Ayden Mayeri), and it complicates his real New England mission: to figure out who’s stolen the rare and valuable paintings owned by his Italian girlfriend Angela’s (Lorenza Izzo) father, who’s been kidnapped.
Those two mysteries immediately intertwine, forcing Fletch, per the character’s tradition, to assume a variety of guises in his search for the truth, and drawing him into a tangled web that also involves Angela’s seductress stepmom The Countess (Marcia Gay Harden), his home’s shady owner Owen (John Behlmann), and EMD-loving germophobe art dealer Horan (Kyle MacLachlan).
From the droll Wood and bumbling Mayeri to the polished yet dance-crazy MacLachlan (who hilariously steals his brief scenes), Confess, Fletch is bursting with distinctively amusing personalities, which also include Annie Mumolo as a ridiculously oblivious and chatty neighbor and Hamm’s Mad Men co-star John Slattery as a profane newspaper editor with a mouth full of insults.
It’s difficult to remember a recent American comedy with so many strong supporting performances, much less one that spins them around a headliner who’s as nonchalantly magnetic as Hamm is as the preternaturally unperturbed Fletch. The actor turns his basketball-loving Sherlock into the sharpest and most self-assured guy in the room, even as he also casts him as a clownish troublemaker making it all up as he goes along. Melding smarty-pants intelligence and imprudence is a tricky tightrope to walk, and making it funny and endearing is tougher still. Yet Hamm does so with aplomb, his Fletch less a Halloween costumed man of many faces (à la Chase) than a shrewd, slippery journalist with an eye for blending in and a gift for projecting trustworthiness, both of which allow him to exploit others’ vanity for his own ends.
Confess, Fletch is a convoluted tale of duplicity and danger that’s driven by the nefariousness of the rich and entitled, and it proceeds at a fleet pace that allows one to remain just clued in enough to keep up. Hamm’s barbs and ruses are similarly swift, with Fletch deceiving and outwitting by wholeheartedly and enthusiastically sticking to his cons, as well as by naturally leaning into his attractiveness—which proves another hook he uses to reel in his targets.
At the same time, though, a key component of his appeal is that he doesn’t appear to be trying too hard, thus making even his dad-bod a part of his shrewd package. Hamm and Fletch fit each other like a glove, and Mottola and Zev Borow’s script bestows the hero with consistent moments to shine, giving him a steady stream of pointed retorts and boasts, and surrounding him with a collection of colorful cops, criminals and paramours whose outlandishness affords him ample opportunities to reactively shine.
Fletch hop-scotches between Italy and Boston in Confess, Fletch, the latter an environment where his Lakers cap marks him as an unwelcome outsider. He also bounces between newsrooms, bars, country clubs, yachts, swanky homes and alleyways. The protagonist, like the film, is constantly on the move, and even when things are hopelessly confused and threatening to fall apart, he’s always in complete control of himself and the situation at hand.
Mottola proficiently steers the action through its various twists and turns, maintaining adequate plot lucidity while keeping the focus on his personable cast and, most of all, on Hamm. Whether his Fletch is posing as a shallow lifestyle reporter, pulling off a fireworks trick or evading the advances of the Countess—whose appearance in his house, and bed, is one of many eventual headaches with which he has to deal—the actor carries himself with a calm and crafty composure that’s comically at odds with the chaos of his circumstances.
So charismatic is Hamm that Confess, Fletch’s conclusion is almost beside the point; the pleasure comes from spending time in Fletch’s company, watching him work his magic and then narrowly avoid a lethal fate. Miramax may have released it with an unceremonious lack of fanfare, but it’s the very sort of smart and silly comedy that adult cinephiles have been craving—and proof that, in the right vehicle, the multifaceted Hamm is the movie star we always suspected.