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Confess, Fletch and Pearl

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CONFESS, FLETCH. To a vast, often problematic swath of the population (read: Gen X white guys, to whom I am only generationally adjacent, thanks very much), Chevy Chase is as a god. This is due in part, of course, to his SNL antics, Clark Griswold and his, in hindsight, surprisingly minor, world-devouring turn in Caddyshack (1980). But it is Chase's rendering of Irwin M. Fletcher in Fletch (1985), from Gregory McDonald's series of mystery-solving reporter novels, that spawned a million shaky impersonations and made him a successful, if unlikely leading man for the next decade.

I've seen and enjoyed Fletch — maybe even Fletch Lives (1989), I can't really recall — but it wasn't a particularly formative text. Funny? Sure, and kind of sexy in the mildly uncomfortable style of movies borne of the transition from the prior decade. And, full disclosure: I certainly put in my time with my VHS copy of Three Amigos (1986). But recasting Fletch poses no threat to the sanctity of my remembered childhood. If it does yours, well, write a song about it and pitch it to your other dad-band sad sacks.

Jon Hamm, on the other hand, is an actor (star?) for whom I've long wished an appropriate starring vehicle. He shall always be the Don Draper of our dreamless drunken dreams, but we have had it on good information for some time now that the guy's got jokes; a shame Hollywood has all but abandoned comedy. Before the genre is ground completely to dust, though, Confess, Fletch has managed to sneak in, albeit primarily via streaming.

The fact that a clever, modestly scaled comedy whodunnit with charisma and sex appeal has to sneak anywhere is disheartening, and speaks to tragic developments both in the collective consciousness and in the movie business. But Confess, Fletch is here now and I should be glad.

I've yet to read any of McDonald's source material but, as I understand it, his Fletch is less grandstanding goof than Chase made him, more sardonic and capable. And that is the character as Hamm plays it, prone to muttered asides, apt to be bested in physical contest, but cleverer and smarter than most.

After a brief Roman holiday leads to a romantic entanglement, Fletch makes his way to Boston, where he trips over a dead body and falls into a murder investigation set against an intercontinental art heist. Doggedly pursued by Detective Monroe (Roy Wood, Jr.), a Celtic to his Laker, Fletch quickly becomes a person of interest in multiple felonies and must conduct his own investigation while ducking tails and infiltrating the yacht-clubbing Northeast blue-bloodery.

Admittedly, I'm a sucker for noir and detective stories reimagined in contemporary settings, so the briefest of plot sketches had me intrigued. But, as is so rarely the case, Confess, Fletch rose to and exceeded my expectations. Hamm and the supporting cast (including Marcia Gay Harden positively chewing on a bad Italian accent and John Slattery cursing like a sailor) play it cool without really trying, rendering a perfectly balanced blend of suspense and humor. Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, 2007; Adventureland, 2009) orchestrates the affair with aplomb, lending a sort of effortless style to each frame and maintaining a consistently compelling, never rushed pace. Character name notwithstanding, I didn't think of Chevy Chase in an Afro wig; not once. R. 93M. AMAZON PRIME.

PEARL. Earlier this year, writer/director Ti West broke a long feature dry spell with X, a paean to the roots of indie horror filmed entirely in New Zealand during the pandemic. An end credits teaser promised more — a color-saturated origin story of sorts. We would then come to learn that West and star/co-writer Mia Goth had conceived this prequel, set 60 years before the events of X, while quarantined in their respective hotel rooms, waiting for production to commence. And further, that they had undertaken the ambitious project of shooting both movies in sequence.

And so now we have Pearl, a sort-of throwback to the Technicolor Cinemascope extravaganzas of a bygone era, a tale of stifled dreams corrupted into homicidal rage.

In the depths of the Spanish influenza pandemic and the winding down of the Great War, Pearl (Goth) is largely homebound, caring for her debilitated father and subject to the military discipline of her German born mother. With her husband serving in Europe, Pearl is starved for affection and dreams of stage stardom. The movie palace and its handsome projectionist (David Corenswet) offer momentary respite from reality, and an upcoming audition for a touring dance company dangles the chance of escape. But we already know whence this chapter leads.

On first watch, Pearl feels maybe-too deliberate in its pacing, maybe a little too enamored of its own aesthetic achievements. Upon reflection, though, the movie meets its own ambitions admirably, creating something distinct from its ostensible homage. And there is, again, another chapter in the offing. R. 102M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre (707) 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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