A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Fletch Lives" is one more dispirited slog through the rummage sale of movie cliches, at which we discover the following marked-down items: a wisecracking newspaper reporter, a crumbling Southern mansion, a genial small-town lawyer with eyes of steel, a TV evangelist, a jailhouse bully, a smart black FBI man who pretends to be stupid, a sexy young real-estate woman, an evil industrial polluter and a cynical newspaper editor. I almost forgot the boring woman in the next seat in the airplane, who won't stop talking. She's in here, too, not to mention a seductive Southern belle and a dozen Ku Klux Klansmen.
What's amazing is that people have the nerve, and find the strength, to make a movie involving these elements. If you were writing a screenplay, would you think a movie involving all of those pathetic cliches had the slightest chance of interesting anyone? Michael Ritchie, the director, has made original work in the past ("Smile," "Downhill Racer," "The Candidate," "Semi-Tough"). He also directed the original "Fletch" in 1985, although, interestingly, that credit is omitted from this movie's press material. How did Ritchie feel every morning as he marched forth to manipulate ingredients that had been exhausted by generations of filmmakers before him? The key element in the movie is the presence of Chevy Chase, in the title role as a wisecracking investigative reporter for a Los Angeles newspaper. Chase's assignment is to bring an angle, an edge, to plot materials that are otherwise completely without interest. And it's theoretically possible for that to happen; movies are bad not because of their subject matter, but because of how they approach it, what style they bring to it. But Chase is wrong for this material because of the pose of detachment and indifference that he brings to so many roles. He seems to be visiting the plot as a benevolent but indifferent outsider.
When Chase bothers to actually play a character, he can be very effective (his "Funny Farm" was one of the best comedies of 1988).
But sometimes he seems to be covering himself, playing detached so that nobody can blame him if the comedy doesn't work. In this film he seems to have no emotions at all; consider the scene where he discovers that the woman he made love with has died during the night.