A new Fletch film has been kicking around Hollywood for more than a decade and the project has been through several interesting permutations. It was initially conceived as a direct follow-up to the original Fletch and its sequel Fletch Lives – but after languishing in development hell for several years, the film was transformed into a prequel – so that a new actor could inherit the title role played so memorably by Chevy Chase in the previous installments.
Back in February, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to the entire series of Fletch novels by Gregory McDonald and announced their plans to make “a smart action comedy that plays out on a bigger canvas than the previous movies”. They also pointed out that it would not be a remake of the original film, but rather a “reimagining.”
Will this latest attempt to revitalize the Fletch franchise yield more favorable results than past efforts? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain – this is a project that has already endured a ridiculously long list of ups and downs.
In the late 90s, Universal Pictures approached Kevin Smith to develop another sequel featuring Chase. Evidently, Smith and Chase realized that they weren’t exactly on the same page in regards to the film and the notoriously callous actor jumped ship. By this point, Miramax had picked up the rights to the entire series of Fletch novels by Gregory McDonald and Smith decided to adapt the first book in the series – Fletch Won.
Since the story focused on Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher’s early years as a junior reporter, Chase’s involvement was no longer necessary (though Smith was still open to having Chase serve as the narrator – or make a cameo appearance that would bookend the film). Jason Lee was Smith’s top choice for the role, but Harvey Weinstein had serious doubts about the young actor’s ability to open a film. Smith left the project in 2005 and was replaced by Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence who was keen on casting Zach Braff as the new Fletch. Braff was never officially involved with Fletch Won and although Weinstein liked Lawrence’s script, he was replaced by Steve Pink (Accepted) in 2007. One month later, the Weinsteins canceled the project and the rights reverted back to McDonald’s estate.
The original Fletch made some departures from the source material and nearly every writer or director who has come and gone from this project has mentioned how much closer to the books their version will be. Crafting a story that bears little resemblance to the earlier films should be easy enough (there are eleven books to pull inspiration from, after all), but the bigger issue is finding an actor who’s fearless enough to step into one of Chase’s most celebrated roles.
No matter who they choose, comparisons will be inevitable – but it seems likely that this version of Fletch might be targeted at an audience who’s never seen or even heard of the original. It’s unfortunate that Chase’s run as the character only lasted for two films – since the premise is definitely one that could have sustained itself over the course of several sequels.
We’ll see if Warner Bros. has better luck with the Fletch franchise than the previous rights-holders.