Producers: Connie Tavel, Bill Block and Jon Hamm   Director: Greg Mottola   Screenplay: Greg Mottola and Zev Borow   Cast: Jon Hamm, Roy Wood, Jr., Annie Mumolo, Aydan Mayeri, Lorenz Izzo, John Slattery, Kenneth Kimmins, John Behlmann, Lucy Punch, Robert Picardo, Eugene Mirman, Kyle McLachlan and Marcia Gay Harden   Distributor: Miramax

Grade: B

It’s not just because the Greg Mcdonald novel on which it’s based dates from 1976 and two previous movies about wisecracking reporter-turned-investigator I.M. Fletcher were made in the 1980s, that “Confess, Fletch” feels like a throwback to forty or fifty years ago.  Though the time might be updated, the tone and temperament of Greg Mottola’s adaptation are almost defiantly old-fashioned, so that you might feel you’re watching his film on TCM rather than in a theatre or on a streaming service.  But lest you think that’s a bad thing, in an era when the multiplexes are glutted with CGI superhero extravaganzas, animated kidflicks and horror movies, a nifty, somewhat corny, whodunit like this is a breath of not-completely-fresh but far from stale air.

The convoluted scenario starts with a murder—of a young woman in a posh Boston apartment arranged for Fletch (Jon Hamm) by his current employer/squeeze, Italian beauty Angela De Grassi (Lorenza Izzo).  Her father, Count Climenti (Robert Picardo), has been kidnapped, and the ransom demanded for his release is a Picasso from his extensive art collection.  The problem is that the collection has been stolen, so Fletch has been retained to track it down.  Now there’s a new problem in that Boston police inspector Morris “Slow-Mo” Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.) is targeting Fletch as his chief suspect in the woman’s death, and he and his klutzy assistant Griz (Ayden Mayeri) are constantly on his tail. 

The identity of the killer will eventually be revealed after a long, circuitous chain of events, but the fun of the film lies less in the machinations of the plot, though they provide their share of chuckles, but from the stream of oddball characters, sharply drawn by the cast, introduced in the course of them.  Aside from Fletch, smoothly played by Hamm with a smugness that manages to avoid becoming irritating, Izzo’s voluptuous Angela, Wood’s amusingly hangdog cop, as encumbered by his family duties as his professional ones, and Mayeri’s put-upon Griz—who provides the slapstick that Chevy Chase did as Fletch in the earlier movies—there’s a parade of quirky folks to enjoy.

These include not just Count Climenti himself but Ronald Horan (silken Kyle MacLachlan), a germaphobe art dealer who suggests he can produce the Piccaso, for a price; Countess De Grassi (Marcia Gay Harden), Climenti’s voluble, libidinous wife; Owen Tasserly (John Behlmann), the owner of the apartment, and his snippy estranged wife Tetiana (Lucy Punch); Frank (John Slattery), Fletch’s sharp-tongued former editor;  the inept security guard at the club where Horan keeps his yacht (Eugene Mirman); and The Commodore (Kenneth Kimmins), the self-appointed head of the club.  Best of all is Eve (Annie Mumolo), the utterly scatterbrained neighbor of Tasserly’s who’s totally oblivious to the damage she and her incontinent dog are causing.

None of them are all that helpful to Fletch, who in any event is more prone to jump to the wrong conclusion than not.  But watching him deal with them provides plenty of chuckles and a few belly laughs.  The ultimate solution to the mystery won’t come as much of a surprise to anybody, but getting there is surprisingly enjoyable.

The journey is made more attractive by the slick look provided by the technical team—production designer Alex DiGerlando, costumer Wendy Cluck, and cinematographer Sam Levy; both Boston and Italian locations are nicely caught.  Editor Andy Keir makes things go by smoothly, and David Arnold’s score provides a swinging vibe that, once again, is reminiscent of the seventies and eighties.

So in “Confess, Fletch” we have a throwback not so much to the Chevy Chase movies but to Mcdonald’s book—a cleverly plotted, but, more importantly, expertly cast comic mystery peopled with amusingly quirky characters.