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Confess, Fletch review – Jon Hamm shows comic chops in kooky caper

The Mad Men star gives a refreshingly funny turn in writer-director Greg Mottola’s reboot of the Pink Panther-inspired detective series

To say a movie “doesn’t exist” has, it seems, become part of the cultural lexicon. Films bestowed with this unwanted honour tends to have no striking aesthetic value, no memorable performances, no social relevance. They tend to be quickly forgotten. Confess, Fletch was very nearly one of those films – not for any filmmaking reasons, but because producers Miramax gave up on giving Greg Mottola’s comedy a theatrical release. In the run-up to its release stateside (via Showtime), it wasn’t even advertised.

Brits should count themselves lucky: here, Confess, Fletch does exist, with a hastily cut trailer (which gives away most of the film’s funnier jokes) even playing in cinemas. That Fletch almost went under the radar is particularly unfortunate because it’s quite good. Jon Hamm, like George Clooney, is naturally adept at comedy despite also being outrageously handsome (some have it all). We mistakenly associate good looks with steeliness or a lack of humour. Hamm is a useful tonic to that myth.

His Maurice Fletcher isn’t as loud as Steve Martin’s Inspector Clouseau or even Chevy Chase’s original bumbling detective from 1985’s Fletch, the first adaptation of Gregory Mcdonald’s books. Hamm’s buffoonery is a little kookier and quieter: he announces “five stars” after leaving cabs and, after getting beaten up, simply says “Ow.” It’s not exactly Steve Martin in Father of the Bride stuff. Confess, Fletch is better for it.

Roy Wood Jr. as actual policeman “Slow Mo” Monroe balances Hamm’s quirk nicely. The same is true for John Slattery, who appears in a handful of scenes as a morally compromised newspaper editor (imagine). Watching the Mad Men stars interact is joyful, their chemistry unsurprisingly effortless. And Hamm, who also produced the film, is generally canny at casting, opting for actors who generally bring his head-in-the-clouds protagonist down to earth. It’s a slight shame that Slattery’s role feels so tacked on. But nothing in Confess, Fletch ever feels integral. For a comedy about a private detective who becomes the prime suspect in a gruesome murder, it’s remarkably deft, if a little too la-dee-da when some commitment to the drama might’ve been useful.

Confess, Fletch is also a touch less funny than it thinks it is. Most of its jokes are better written than performed, and presumably lifted straight from Mcdonald’s books. Not enough time was spent converting that quippiness into something tangible, even if Hamm’s delivery is pretty faultless. Marcia Gay Harden’s Countess is pure schlock, and not the good kind, while Kyle MacLachlan as shady art dealer Ronald Horan is all a bit Scooby Doo. Mottola, a noted comedy director who for Superbad deserves a place in the annals of history, leans a tad too hard on the lightness. It makes the dramatic ups and downs feel muted, wasting what’s an admirably intricate story.

Regardless of these missteps, however, we should all be grateful that Confess, Fletch does, indeed, exist. And that its wonderful star has reminded us of his willingness to Hamm it up once again.

Confess, Fletch is released in UK cinemas on 18 November.

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