Maybe the most memorable aspect of Fletch is how restrained Chevy Chase is. His ‘80s output prior included Caddyshack and Vacation, the latter turning him insane after arriving at Wally World to find it closed.
In Fletch, he never loses it, even when getting his colon checked by M. Emmet Walsh. That is professionalism. Chase, playing title character investigative reporter Fletch, takes on a series of identities, all of them still entertaining even without Chase’s familiar antics.
It is not hard to see a bit of 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop in Fletch, the latter released a year later. In that Eddie Murphy classic, a cop must think quickly to investigate a murder, rapidly switching identities on the fly to get the information he needs. Fletch is hardly different besides the profession and utilizing more in-depth costumes.
Fletch must pose as a doctor to gain access to some medical records, reading a list on the wall until asked by a nurse for his name. Dropping some papers, Fletch bumbles every possible name, yet gains access anyway. It a classic case of misdirection, baffling the poor nurse, and a trick pulled right out of the Axel Foley playbook.
For all his antics, Fletch still knows his place, and realizes he has a job to do. His personality is such that even under stress, he can handle the situation via humor. It’s purpose is not simply to make the audience laugh, but develop another side of the character, pushing it out of one dimensional territory.
Based on a novel by Gregory McDonald, Fletch finds enough balance that this material, even as Chase roller skates down the beach in a striped robe and fake beard, seems legitimate enough for the period. This is undoubtedly a product of the ‘80s, the electronic keyboard theme (distinctively the work of Harold Faltermeyer, who also composed the Beverly Hills Cop theme) aging it ever so slightly. Fletch still entertains, a minor highlight of Chase’s ‘80s output compared to Caddyshack and the two Vacation efforts (minus European).
Universal releases an unbearably bad VC-1 effort for Fletch (the same as the previous HD DVD), crammed onto a BD-25. The film’s thick grain structure, in a better encode, would not be a bother. When it appears this clumpy, digital, and noisy, it is inexcusable.
While you could pick a number of scenes to focus on, let’s skip to Chase’s first meeting with Gail around 22:38. The scene opens on a long shot of tennis courts, surrounded by trees. There is little or no definition to this establishing scene, leaves from the trees clumped together as one, people in the background appearing as mere blobs, and the grain (what little of it is left after DNR) noisy. As Fletch and Gail meet, artifacting and edge enhancement become severe. Flip to 23:41:03, where Chase’s own right shoulder shows a thick black outline, and Gail’s hair degrades into a series of blocks due to the encodes inability to handle anything complex.
Black levels are weak throughout, giving much of the movie a washed out, flat appearance. Certain scenes highlight flesh tones warmly, while the majority leaves them weakly faded and pale. Edge enhancement along high contrast edges is constant, notable around Chase’s neckline at 36:10 (amongst countless other shots). Much of the movie looks artificially sharpened, and possibly brightened. Grain becomes visible in what should be pure black portions of the screen, a problem shared by the Ghostbusters release from Sony.
In close, minimal fine detail is visible. An occasional pore can be seen through the haze of filters and supposed enhancements. At a distance, such as long shots of the newsroom, there is little differentiation between this Blu-ray effort and the DVD. There certainly should be, as these shots look nothing like typical film, but digital affairs that ruin the structure and clarity of an otherwise well kept source print. Few specks/scratches are visible for the entirety of the running time. If you take the time to locate a mostly pristine source, why bother transferring it in such a shoddy manner?
Aside from the music, Fletch sits firmly in an uncompressed center channel for this DTS-HD effort. Dialogue carries a hollow, flat quality, typical for the period. However, in the few scenes Chase narrates, his words are practically distorted to the point of becoming inaudible. The soundtrack, including the opening and closing ‘80s hit “Bit by Bit” bleeds aggressively into the surrounds. Clarity is fine, the synthesized tunes carrying acceptable fidelity. The theme to the film itself is likewise clear and free of distortion.
Brief bursts of action contain strained highs, particularly a shotgun blast and car crash. They sound faded, flat, and lack any impact. Nothing happens on the low-end. At the least, the dialogue remains prioritized, especially during the freeway chase as Fletch terrifies a young car thief. Heavy traffic and police sirens do not overwhelm the hilarious conversation.
Just Charge it to the Underhills is the first feature, a 26-minute making-of that is a blast to watch, an example of what happens when a disc producer actually becomes involved in their work when the key actors aren’t. From John Cocktoastin to Harry S. Truman is a short bit on the costume work involved during filming. A short compilation combines some of the funniest moments of the film. BD-Live support is included, taking the user to a generic Universal splash page.