Photo: Robert Clark/Miramax
Spoilers follow for Admit it, Fletch.
Jon Hamm’s performance in Confess, Fletch is like a knowing nod to everyone who loved him as Don Draper, misses him as Don Draper, and wonders why his career position–Mad Men wasn’t as complex as the work he did as Don Draper. It’s one of the few roles he’s had since the series ended in 2015 that fully captures the layers of his appeal.
After the recent repairable but forgettable cop-adjacent turns (Top Gun: Maverick, Richard Jewell, The report), Hamm slides into irony and self-mockery in this adaptation of Gregory Mcdonald’s novel about a former investigative reporter (“of some reputation”, he says more than once) who dabbles in detective work. The goofy physical comedy he too briefly showed on 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and in that moment he awkwardly hoisted himself onto the stage to accept that his Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy to shine here. He makes exaggerated faces, bounces between chuckling, dryly puzzled line deliveries, and attempts subterfuge as he smashes his way at half-speed through a dancing crowd. But as Fletch, Hamm also invokes the full range he revealed throughout Mad Men and acknowledges his Don Draper persona while also opposing it.
In director Greg Mottola’s adaptation (in theaters and available for digital rental), Fletch is a bit of a womanizer, a bit of a self-destructor, a bit of a jerk, and a bit of an amused outsider — qualities that Hamm’s Draper shares. Over the seven seasons of the AMC series, Hamm honed the publicist as an empathetic yet unmistakable villain, someone whose narcissism, melancholy, and brashness often meant he ended up hurting those he loved. more. Comparatively, Hamm plays Fletch like a fun-house-mirror version of Don: the two are broadly recognizable thanks to Fletch’s lusty, fumbling, and self-satisfied qualities. But the actor’s willingness to directly send Draper’s dapper air of authority makes Fletch clumsier and, well, Hammier and is the key to this windy film’s easy likability.
Photo: Robert Clark/Miramax
Confess, Fletch stars Hamm as the accused and follows two previous big-screen Mcdonald adaptations starring Chevy Chase, set in 1985 Fletch and 1989 Fletch lives. In present-day Boston, Fletch returns home after two years of working in Europe to discover a dead woman in the house his new girlfriend, an Italian heiress, has rented for him. Fletch pretends not to know who she is, but local police detective Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and his intern Griz (Ayden Mayeri) see the case as open and closed and start following Fletch. While Fletch eludes them, he also pursues his own investigations, making Hamm virtually ubiquitous; nothing happens in this twisted comedy without Fletch to raise a mischievous eyebrow.
This leaves plenty of screen time for Hamm to go from comedy to sexiness to drama and back again. When Fletch said, “My Italian is very good,” after using the word for piss when he meant bowl, there’s an echo of Draper’s misplaced certainty while delivering this boxing-themed Samsonite pitch. When interviewing an aspiring influencer (“Don’t you hate people who are too poor to afford beauty? The worst”), he pairs a prolonged eye roll with a full-body chuckle. When he calls his girlfriend from prison, he slips under his breath: “What are not do you wear? And when Monroe wonders aloud who people hate more, cops or reporters, Hamm adds a resentful tone to Fletch’s response: “It’s the cops.” In the hands of a flashier, more aggressive actor — say, a Ryan Reynolds — those moments could have an irritatingly self-satisfied quality. But Hamm plays them with such rhythmic, shrugging energy that he makes room for his fellow cast members in a give-and-take relationship that makes the film feel like a true ensemble effort.
Fletch’s combative relationship with Monroe and Griz allows for nuances of Don’s demanding and condescending dynamic with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s underlings. “Shut up and talk,” commands an exasperated Monroe, to which Fletch replies, “That’s a very confusing combination of commands.” He sparkles well against Marcia Gay Harden’s unimpressed Contessa, who denies his potential son-in-law by saying his name “Flesh” and casually comments on his “big cock.” (That last line seems specifically designed to push Hamm for saying rolling stone in 2013 that he wanted people to “stop” talking about the alleged size of his genitals.) And in scenes with John Slattery, playing a former Fletch editor who, of course, can’t stand his new millennial colleagues (“They’re so respectful. I can’t tell you how much I fucking hate this place”, the duo fall back into the same friendly camaraderie they honed as Roger and Don The two eventually go to a bar to complain about life. What could be more fitting for them than that?
Mad Men gave Hamm plenty of opportunities to reinvent himself, and Confess, Fletch achieves a similar feat with a role that highlights Hamm’s best qualities: the prickly tension he can summon in an instant, the droll humor he uses to offset his classic good looks, the graceful way he can move between cunning and charm. In the past, Hamm’s roles have demanded a few of these traits at once – the brash asshole of Bridesmaidsthe infamous FBI agent in Bad weather at the El Royalethe delightfully devious villain of baby driver – but they rarely converged while allowing Hamm to play a hero. Whether Confess, Fletch had no marketing efforts behind it, this character might suggest a way forward for Hamm to showcase his multi-faceted drive.
Imagine Hamm’s Fletch at the center of a franchise shaped like a British TV series: two to four episodes per season where Hamm could do all his Columbo-meets-Clouseau thing with a rotating array of Mad Men cast members as guests. Won’t any streaming service give us that? What else does AMC+ do? In the film’s final act, after Fletch helps catch the murderer at a country club (and before an open ending that could easily lead to Fletch Fortune), Monroe observes, “Only you could have squeezed into a place like this and been able to blend in.” He might as well be talking to Hamm, who walks around in this film and exploits his Don Draper past to make the case for Fletch’s future. It’s a shame that our chances of seeing him are disappearing as quickly as Don’s footprints in Hawaiian sand.