If the Fletch reboot movie project was an undercover prostate exam, it would have had ample time to belt out “Moon River” many times over. While such a project was recently revived by Miramax, this time starring Jon Hamm, the process has been one marred by so much difficulty, it has been referred to as a cursed endeavor. It’s a notion to which Bill Lawrence, co-creator of Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso, can attest, having once been attached as director for Fletch.
The effort to revive and/or reboot Fletch, the Chevy Chase-starring 1980s comedic detective film franchise based on the late Gregory McDonald’s novels, makes for a lengthy tale. Lawrence, best known as the creator of NBC sitcom Scrubs, came into the project in the mid-2000s as writer/director for an adaptation of the eighth book, Fletch Won, after long-held plans for Kevin Smith—fresh off the success of 1997 dramedy Chasing Amy—to direct a rendition (starring his player, Jason Lee,) had been nixed at Miramax by Harvey Weinstein. However, Lawrence, who had ‘80s-inspired designs, ultimately exited after a long and frustrating process.
Now, with a decade-and-a-half to reflect on his ill-fated Fletch gig, Lawrence, in an interview with Uproxx mainly focused on Ted Lasso, provides poignant perspective on the issues that long held the franchise back. As he explains:
“I think it’s so hard because the original Fletch movie is so iconic, and for guys, especially kids of a certain age, like me, they can do every line. And because of that, it’s a big thing to bite off for a performer to go, ‘Oh, I’m going to be compared to Chevy Chase doing this.’ Like, I got to know Greg McDonald before he passed away, the author of all the books, and the books are so much darker. They’re still banter-driven, but no one’s wearing fake teeth, do you know what I mean?”
Lawrence’s thoughts on the pressures put on prospective stars come from direct experience. With his Fletch Won tenure having taken place in the middle of Scrubs’ 2001-2010 run, he (just as Smith before him,) came into the project with designs to cast his own player, Zach Braff, for the titular lead role of Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher; a feasible proposition since he was coming off an acclaimed co-starring role—opposite Natalie Portman—in the 2004 romantic dramedy, Garden State. However, Braff ultimately passed on the perilous comedic task in the face of the strong and esoteric shadow cast by Chase’s performance in the 1985 film and its 1989 sequel. Likewise, the next actor eyed for the role, Ryan Reynolds (who was hardly the superstar he is today,) also eventually balked at the task, as did eyed successors for post-Lawrence iterations like Justin Long and Joshua Jackson. Indeed, current star Jon Hamm is the intended culmination to several different visions of a new Fletch.
Consequently, Lawrence is well aware of the challenges that face the Fletch reboot’s recently-appointed director, Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, Paul), who’s working off a script by Zev Borrow (Chuck, Forever). One such challenge is the ambiguity of the franchise’s branding. After all, the 1985 film, directed by Michael Ritchie, took tonal liberties with McDonald’s novels, injecting the witty banter and earnest array of gumshoeing with a heavy dose of signature Chevy Chase silliness, rife with imagery of an undercover Fletch in side-splitting disguises, brandishing the clumsiness one would come to expect. Consequently, those attributes have become so ingrained in the franchise that to not include them would be seen by lines-quoting (non-book-reading) general audiences as sacrilegious. Yet, Lawrence makes an apt comparison of Fletch‘s dilemma to a current successful television show that radically reinvented a classic comic franchise. As he further states:
“And so, there’s also this weird push and pull to going, ‘it’s a reboot, but it’s not.’ It’s a reboot the same way that Riverdale is the Archies, and no one read the Archies and goes, ‘You know what this is going to become? Some weird noir murder mystery.’ It’s because the Fletch novels are so different than what they turned that movie into, I think it just makes it… You often will find yourself knee-deep in a project where all the big players think you’re doing something different, and that’s why it’s been tough so far.”
Difficulties notwithstanding, Miramax’s newly-revived Fletch reboot movie is still a fresh entry on the studio docket, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) it ultimately manifests in the face of such an overwhelming history, both as a film franchise and as a perpetually-gestating reboot project.