Irwin M. Fletcher (Chevy Chase), better known as 'Fletch', writes a column for a Los Angeles newspaper under the byline 'Jane Doe'. He's working undercover at a local beach where a lot of hard drug-trafficking is taking place when he is suddenly cornered by Alan Stanwyk (Tim Matheson) who, assuming him to be one of the many junkies floating around the beach, makes him a strange offer. Claiming he has incurable cancer, Stanwyk asks Fletch to murder him a week from that date in order to both avoid his suffering and to provide for his family by allowing them to claim life insurance. Intrigued, Fletch begins to investigate Stanwyk's claims, discovering that things may be tied in with the story he is investigating at the beach, and that a sinister police chief (Joe Don Baker) may also be involved...
Probably Chevy Chase's most well-known role after Clark Griswold, and something of a cult hit. A 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives, takes Fletch to The Deep South where he investigates intrigue around his family estate. The series was rebooted in 2022 with Confess, Fletch, an adaptation of the Mcdonald novel starring Jon Hamm as Fletch.
Provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Fletch tells a beach drifter in one scene that he "feels like a hundred dollars". Chevy Chase said the same line in Caddyshack and in Seems Like Old Times. Likewise, Fletch puts his tab on a Mr. Underhill, another reference to Caddyshack.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: The movie version of Fletch isn't a particularly nice guy but he's quite sanded-down compared to the source material. While still a Deadpan Snarker, the book Fletch is often downright abrasive in his verbal exchange, particularly with the New's Tribune assistant editor where he frequently uses strong expletives and make unflaterring alusions to her sexual proclivities. His questionable relationship with a teenage junkie is Adapted Out, as is the reason for his divorce (throwing a cat out of a 7th-floor window). In the book, Fletch put his tennis club tab on the Underwood's out of pure pragmatism, while the movie has Fletch pick his target after seeing Mr. Underhill being a jerk to a waiter. Furthermore, the book ends with Fletch leaving Stanwyk to die so he can elope with his three millions of getaway money while no such thing happens in the film.
- Adaptational Skill: In the book, Fletch shows no inclination at disguising himself and mostly just lies about his identity over the phone. This isn't very filmic, so the movie turns him into a Master of Disguise.
- Adaptational Ugliness: In the novels, Fletch was a handsome, young, blond, extremely muscular man who could bed any woman he wanted. In the movies, he was played by a forty-something Chevy Chase who, while not exactly unhandsome, doesn't meet the other criteria that closely.
- Adaptational Villainy: Alan Stanwyk. In the novel he had nothing to do with the drug-dealing on the beach or the crooked police department. He did plan to kill Fletch as a way of faking his death, but Fletch correctly notes when he confronts him at the end that he's a good person who feels guilty about his bigamy, and he won't be able to pull the trigger.
- Adapted Out: The film omits Bobbi, the teenage junkie Fletch stays with as part of his beach junkie cover, and Fletch's lawyer friend Alston.
- Amoral Attorney: In both films, Fletch is bothered by his ex-wife's incredibly annoying alimony attorney Marvin Gillet, whom he despises almost as much as his ex-wife. (Supposedly, Marvin was able to get a rather unfair settlement in his wife's favor.) Fletch gets even with him at the end of the second film, however, when he shows up offering to forego all future alimony payments (and never show his face there again) in exchange for the Belle Isle property, which he believes to be valuable. Fletch, barely able to contain his joy, happily signs over the land, which unbeknownst to Marvin is worthless and covered with toxic waste due to the events of the movie.
- Gillet's Facial Dialogue suggests he knows what's really there however.
- American Gothic Couple: Stanwyk's parents, in essence if not in image.
- Artistic License – Law: Property deeds need to be recorded in a Chancery Clerk's office, and copies are available to the public. Fletch didn't have to break into Jim Swarthout's office to get the deed; he could have gone to the local courthouse. Also, Utah is a non-disclosure state: one is not required to reveal the selling price in a deed, and Stanwyk would certainly never reveal in public he had paid only $3,000 for the land he bought. It would be more realistic if Fletch had broken into Swarthout's office to find a bill of sale, or he could even have gone to Swarthout in disguise and simply asked for a copy; Swarthout didn't seem to mind telling him about it on the phone.
- Artistic License – Medicine: The physician in the morgue is using a bone saw with no mask (that can give you lung disease), and he's not wearing gloves, and is okay with Fletch not wearing gloves. Both mask and gloves are necessary not only for patients, but also to protect the physicians.
- Awful Wedded Life: It's clear Gail feels this way with Alan. Makes sense, given he's already married to another woman.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Fletch is quite fond of these. He's even capable of pulling them off by doing nothing but talking nonsense.
- Big Damn Heroes: Gail knocks out Chief Karlin with the blunt edge of a tennis racket as Karlin is seconds away from fatally shooting Fletch.
- Character Name Alias: Fletch uses several of them, often real people. Not everyone catches on.
- The Stanwyks remark at his being named after President Harry S Truman.
- They comment on the historical fact that the "S" didn't stand for anything; it was just a letter.
- The doctor remarks as his having the same name as "a childrens elephant."
- "Is that with two "b"s?
- "No. Yes. Just not right next to each other."
- Also used:
- The Stanwyks remark at his being named after President Harry S Truman.
- Chekhov's Gun: Or Chekhov's Lighter, really.
- Gail's tennis forehand.
- The stolen Underhill's credit card. You'd think he would've cancelled it.
- Composite Character: In the book, Fletch has to contend with both the paper's incompetent editor Frank Jaffe and his assistant Clara Snow, with whom Fletch has repeated arguments throughout the story. In the movie, he simply butts head with Frank Walker directly.
- Crazy-Prepared: Understated, but notice that Fletch brings two copies of the letter he wrote to Stanwyk's house. Y'know, just in case someone interrupted Stanwyk reading it out loud and he needed to take over.
- Creepy Physical: Fletch tries to bargain his way out of a rectal exam.Fletch: MoooooooOOOOOOOOOOooooon river! (moments later) You using the whole fist, doc?
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Alan Stanwyk was from Utah, marries high school sweetheart Sally Ann Cavanagh, moves to Los Angeles to be a pilot, goes Gold Digger and marries a second time the daughter of his boss, Gail Boyd, becoming the Vice President. But he doesn't own any stock in the company. So he becomes a drug smuggler for Chief of Police Karlin. And he figures that somewhere along the way, his Gambit Pile Up will be found out so he decides to fake his death, using Fletch as a body double, not realizing he's a reporter. While at the same time tricking Gail into giving him 3 million dollars of her stocks, and Karlin 8 hundred thousand dollars for the next drug deal.
- Deadpan Snarker: Fletch. And how.
- For one example, the movie contains possibly the driest ever reading of the line "Thank God. The police."
- Denser and Wackier: The movie is zanier than the book, with a lot of the dark elements removed and more pratfalls and physical comedy. In particular, Movie!Fletch uses a lot of goofy disguises to con information out of his targets, while his book counterpart used more realistic and practical means of social engineering.
- Dirty Cop: Chief of Police Karlin is behind the drug running on the beach, along with Stanwyk. Most of the other cops who appear are pretty corrupt as well.
- Disneyesque: From the sequel, Fletch's Imagine Spot about being a plantation owner.
- Dude, Not Funny!: In universe, the reaction of the African-American emcee at Fred Dorfmann's banquet on being called "Sammy," at least as soon as Fletch's back is turned. While Fletch is looking at him, it's more Actually Pretty Funny.
- Dyeing for Your Art: In-Universe, Fletch goes to great lengths for his stories. As he notes in one of his opening monologues, he doesn't get to shower much while pretending to be a beach junkie. He later dons a bunch of disguises.
- Embarrassing First AND Middle Name: Fletch gets quite irate if you call him 'Irwin'.
- Faux Affably Evil: Alan Stanwyk. He is unfailingly polite when he first meets Fletch, but he obviously figures him to be a disposable lowlife.
- Forced into Evil: Fat Sam and Gummy in the first movie. They are drug dealers, but it's made pretty clear that they're just low-level junkies being exploited and forced into dealing by people higher up the food chain. Namely, Stanwyk and Chief Karlin.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: There's a sign on the door of Fat Sam's beachside burger stand, which is a front for drug dealing, which reads "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS". This foreshadows who is really behind the dirty goings-on at the beach.
- Gambit Pile Up: Let's see...
- Fletch is investigating the beaches trying to bust the drug traffic.
- Alan Stanwyk asks him to mercy kill him on thursday to avoid the pain of dying from bone cancer for $50,000, in exchange for a staged burglary and a one way ticket to Rio, mistaking him for a junkie.
- Fletch finds out that Alan has been flying weekly to his parents' home state of Utah, spending $3,000,000 on a ranch using Gail's money. It was only 3 thousand, though.
- On the beach, Fletch's friend Gummy is kidnapped by cops, and at the same time ignoring him busting a window with a rock. Serious O.O.C. Is Serious Business.
- Speaking of cops, Chief of Police Jerry Karlin is buddy buddy with Stanwyk.
- The second Fletch returns from Utah, he's confronted in his apartment by cops, planting heroin on him. And Karlin threatens to kill him if he doesn't stop the beach story.
- While checking Alan's personal plane, he finds out from the crew that he uses enough fuel to go to pretty much South America and back.
- Gail comments that she's never even met Alan's parents, which is odd considering he visits their hometown so often.
- While trailing Stanwyk, he finds him making a trade with Karlin. Afterwards, Karlin sicks every cop in the city on Fletch.
- Stanwyk has a flight for Rio set up to go with a woman named Sally Ann Cavanaugh, a woman who packed up everything at her home in Provo, Utah... Alan's hometown.
- Fletch visits Alan's parents, and finds out who Sally Ann is: His wife!
- Fletch disguises himself and gets a confession from Gummy and Fat Sam: Chief Karlin has been blackmailing them the whole time. And getting his drugs from south america.
- When Fletch begins to investigate Stanwyk, he learns that dying of bone cancer is pure crap. He also recognizes that Stanwyk was a gold digger who married the daughter of the CEO of the aviation company he worked for. He then uses said daughter/his wife to secretly steal 3 million dollars from her. Gail's minor comment to Fletch about looking like the same size as Alan fills him in on Alan's plan to kill Fletch and burn him to pose as his dead body, while using Fletch's passports to go to South America with his wife. Oh, and to top it off, he was married for years to Sally Ann Cavanaugh years before he moved south, making him a bigamist.
- Fletch also finds out that Chief Karlin is using his officers and blackmailed former felons to deal drugs on the beach. And Stanwyk has been using his personal plane to smuggle drugs for him. And the trade mentioned earlier, Karlin gave Stanwyk 800 grand for the next deal, which he was planning on taking with him, leaving Karlin to take the heat.
- When Fletch, Gail, Stanwyk, and Karlin confront each other at the mansion, it leads to a big fight.
- Gender-Blender Name: Fletch’s female assistant at the newspaper, played by Geena Davis, is named Larry. This leads to an amusing moment of Mistaken for Gay when Fletch tells her “I love your body, Larry” over the telephone, within earshot of a shocked old lady.
- Glove Snap: A physician does this before giving Fletch a rectal examination.
- Gold Digger: Stanwyk is pegged as one after marrying his boss' daughter, CEO of Boyd Aviation. Said father-in-law came prepared and has him hold no stock whatsoever. And he has another wife in Utah.Larry: Married Boyd aviation. He's no dummy, that's big money.
- Guile Hero: Fletch gets by solely on his cleverness and ability to fool people.
- Hollywood Spelling: Averted with Stanwyk: Fletch spells the last bit for Larry to help her search for articles. Averted also with Chief Karlin, when Fletch confirms "So that's Karlin with a K, right?" But to be fair, he's a reporter and Karlin is Da Chief, so he'd probably know (this one is also a "fuck you" gesture of defiance to the Chief, who has just tried to threaten him to drop the story). Played straight as an arrow with Swarthout, which most people would need both repeated and spelled out over a mid-80s long distance connection to have a hope of getting right.
- Hypocritical Humor: On a plane Fletch is winding a mini tape recorder to a point where he can record and along the way he encounters heavy breathing followed by a female voice saying "You're not recording this, are you?" and Fletch's voice responding "No, never!"
- Intrepid Reporter: Fletch goes undercover to get the full scoop on any newsworthy situations.
- I Have Many Names: Fletch, due to his occupation as an undercover reporter, has many different aliases which he uses (all of which are either real people or famous fictional characters).
- Imagine Spot: Fletch as a star LA Laker basketball player in the first film, a musical scene on the plantation in the second.
- Ironic Echo: A visual example. In the first scene where Stanwyk approaches Fletch, Stanwyk is in a smart suit and Fletch in a scruffy Lakers shirt and jeans. In the last scene, they've essentially switched clothing — Stanwyk because he's actually planning on killing Fletch, Fletch because he's long since figured out that this is what Stanwyk's planning on doing. And because it's actually Stanwyk's suit, which Fletch acquired prior to sleeping with Stanwyk's wife.
- Jerkass: Ted Underhill, a snobby rich jerk who doesn't tip the waiter. It's this that makes Fletch use his credit card as his own personal expense account.
- Karmic Death: Stanwyk is planning to shoot Fletch, having lured him there with the whole "I'm dying and want you to kill me for the insurance" thing. He ends up getting shot and killed by the Chief, whom he was double-crossing.
- The Klan: Mocked in Fletch Lives.
- Large Ham: Chevy Chase as Fletch.
- Last-Name Basis: Typically goes by "Fletch" (part of his last name, Fletcher) since he hates being called Irwin.
- Look Behind You: Fletch pulls this on a dog, funnily enough.Fletch: Look, defenseless babies!
- Male Gaze: Fletch (and the audience) admires a sunbathing Gail.
- Master of Disguise: Per the film's tagline: "The man who changes his identity more than his underwear," Fletch assumes a lot of false names over the course of the film, most of which have a disguise to go with them.
- Miranda Rights:Fletch: You fellas wanna read me my rights?
Detective: You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to have your face kicked in by me. You have the right to have your balls stomped by him (indicating his partner, who is silently mouthing a kiss).
Fletch: I'll waive my rights.
- No Honor Among Thieves: How the villains are undone at the end. Turns out Stanwyk, learning on the grapevine that Fletch's story was on the verge of blowing the drug smuggling at the beach wide open, decided to fake his death and flee to Rio with his wife (well, one of them) and several hundred thousand dollars that the Chief of Police had staked him for the next shipment. The Chief, naturally, was not overly pleased.
- Non-Action Guy: Fletch gets himself into a lot of dangerous situations, but tries not to fight. He prefers to talk his way out of trouble. He only gets in a scrap when the chief has him at gun point, and even then he's not the one to win the fight.
- Oh, Crap!: At the end when Fletch realizes that performing The Summation on Stanwyk's scheme won't actually stop Stanwyk from, well, going through with his scheme.Stanwyk: I was already gonna commit one murder, assface, what makes you think I won't commit two?
Gail: Whoops? What do you mean, 'whoops'?! Don't say 'whoops'!
- In the sequel Fletch makes the same mistake, but thinks he has insurance by having a friend ready to blow the whistle if anything happens to him. Then The Dragon hauls in his friend at gunpoint.
- Only One Name: Fletch. When asked for his full name, he gives "Fletch F. Fletch."
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Some of Fletch's disguises are quite intricate. Others require no more than the investment of $0.45 in a set of novelty teeth. If that.
- Lampshaded at the beginning, where Fletch remarks that going undercover as a junkie is strangely easy, but actually requires underplaying it rather than howling, twitching and drooling as you might be tempted to do as a stereotypical addict; "act like you don't give a crap, you fit right in."
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Goes both ways with Fletch's editor. The guy's right that Fletch is incredibly late and very sketchy on the details of an increasingly lurid and unconvincing story. On the other hand, Fletch is right, and when he finally shows up with the evidence, the man is willing to print the story.
- Refuge in Audacity: As part of his fake identity lying to everyone all the time schtick, Fletch likes to up the ante, minute by minute, in order to get information for his story.
- Sequel Non-Entity: Larry, Fletch's Girl Friday at the newspaper in Fletch, is nowhere to be found in the sequel (most likely because Geena Davis moved up to bigger roles in the interim). Likewise with Gail Stanwyk, a sufferer of the Cartwright Curse. The same can't be said for Mr. Underhill, although he was Demoted to Extra (after being not much more than an extra in the first film), only appearing in a Dream Sequence (and then only in a panoramic Crowd Song, at that!).
- Skeleton Key Card: How he breaks into his own apartment (via a window, no less) in a failed attempt to evade his ex-wife's lawyer.
- Soft Glass: A doberman busts through a window and is unharmed.
- The Stoner: Fletch's alias trying to investigate beach drug trade.
- Too Dumb to Fool: Fletch's attempt to bluff a shotgun-wielding landlord falls utterly flat when the old man doesn't understand his made-up excuses and keeps circling back to threatening to call the cops. Fletch makes a run for it after giving the poor guy a kick to the balls, which he seems to comprehend just fine.
- Truth in Television: A sufficiently motivated dog can and will jump through a window. It'll just be a lot more injured than happened here.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: Calculus Entropy. It turns out to be an act and he is in fact an undercover FBI agent.
- Wham Line: The first film has three:
Fletch: According to this hospital, Alan Stanwyk does not have cancer.
- Right at the beginning when Fletch is investigating Stanwyk's health:
Fletch: Has Alan ever mentioned the name Sally Ann Cavanaugh?
- Another with Stanwyk's parents:
Mr. Stanwyk: *Beat* Boy, what in the hell's the matter with you?
Fletch: He has mentioned her?
Mr. Stanwyk: Of course he has. It's his wife!
Fletch: You're planning on killing me, aren't you?
- And right at the end, that reveals everything involving Stanwyk: