Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fletch might finally live

I visit this page a lot. It's the IMDB quotes page for one of my favorite movies, a cinematic classic, a legendary effort by one of the top stars of the '80s.

Fletch. I also own the DVD, so if I get sick of reading the quotes and need to actually hear them, I pop it in and watch Chevy Chase in action

It's all ball bearings nowadays; 6-5 with an afro 6-9; Babar, two b's or one?, etc., etc.

And now, after 26 years, Fletch could be returning to theaters. Warner Bros. has made a deal to start the franchise again. But deals such as this have been in the news many times the last three decades. Scripts are written, stars mentioned, and then the movie dies, in the same way the franchise expired after the unfortunate sequel, Fletch Lives. According to an Entertainment Weekly story, there's even a curse of Fletch.

Like many fans of the original, I'm a bit leery of a remake. No one can replace Chase in the iconic role. He is Fletch, the same way he is Clark W. Griswold. The movies were based on the novels by Gregory McDonald, a former newspaper reporter in Boston who quit his job to write his books about an investigative journalist who inevitably stumbles into a mystery. McDonald, who died in 2008, wrote 11 books in the series, providing Hollywood with plenty of material. The books are worth a read on their own.

But like so many, when I think of Fletch, it's impossible not to picture Chase. Fletch was a childhood hero. The movie helped convince me that I should follow my dreams of being a newspaper reporter and a member of the Lakers. One of them eventually came true, though I wish it had been the other.

Fletch made the life of a newspaper reporter look exotic, thrilling. Forget Woodward and Bernstein in All the President's Men. Yes, they helped take down a president, but did they have a basketball hoop in their apartment? Fletch went undercover, lived on the beach, had tickets to Lakers games and charged steak sandwiches to the Underhills' account.

In fact, Fletch is one of the greatest movie reporters in film history. Some other memorable scribblers:

* Sam Waterston as Sydney Schanberg in The Killing Fields. An extraordinarily powerful movie about a pair of real people. Schanberg worked for The New York Times when Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge. Schanberg won a Pulitzer for his work. Haing S Ngor portrayed Dith Pran. Ngor, who, like Pran, survived the Khmer Rouge's horrific regime, won an Oscar for the movie, but was murdered in 1996 during a robbery attempt. Pran died in 2008. Although the movie features the work of a newspaper reporter, it's really about the spirit of Pran, Ngor and the Cambodian people who lived through the horrors of the 1970s.

* Clark Kent. It's part of the disguise, but Kent comes off as a reporter who wouldn't be qualified to be the lead reporter at a weekly shopper, much less at a major metro paper. He's passive, shy and has never really shown any ability to turn a good phrase. Did he work at smaller papers before moving up? And if so, what kind of criminal masterminds did he stop in towns that supported newspapers whose circulation was likely below 50,000 and possibly even below 10,000? Or was he a journalistic superstar who went right from college to the Daily Planet? Hard to picture the mild-mannered Kent being such a superstar. And did he ever win any journalism awards, or did Lois Lane hog them all?

* Sally Field played dogged reporter Megan Carter in Absence of Malice, co-starring Paul Newman, who gets wronged by the local newspaper. Reporters and papers don't come off well in this movie. But the opening scene is like newspaper porn for old-school, ink-stained wretches.

* The Paper focuses on Michael Keaton's character, a daily tabloid editor in New York. But reporters do play a big role, especially Randy Quaid's seen-it-all, drunk, disheveled columnist Michael McDougal. Over Christmas, this was on sale - as a VHS - for a buck at the Janesville convenience store. Well worth it. Would have paid 10 bucks. A few scenes are a bit over the top and Quaid's character is occasionally too much of a caricature. Still, good flick for newspaper folk. The saddest thing about the scene below is that, in real life, Quaid has become a paranoid man who's convinced everyone is out to get him.

* Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey in State of Play. When the movie came out in 2009, many newspaper people adored it, particularly Crowe's portrayal of a street-smart reporter. People who don't like newspapers - the ones who love to describe papers as dying or break out the "dinosaur" cliche, usually in the comments section of the newspaper's website - laughed at the old newspaper fools clinging to the idea that papers can occasionally make a difference. I really liked it. And I loved Crowe's character.

Still, Fletch's apartment hoop makes him cooler.

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