The poster for 'Confess, Fletch'
Courtesy of Miramax
September 30, 2022 12:09 PM EDT

A mystery that’s funny, amusing, and fairly low-stakes: sounds like the perfect movie to flip on when you need a diversion, right? The sort of movie that used to play on repeat on cable, that you tuned into when you were home sick or needed a bit of cheering up after a tough day at work?

A new movie fitting that description is available to stream right now, though you’ve probably never heard of it. Confess, Fletch is the latest adaptation of the popular series of novels by Gregory Mcdonald, and it stars one of our most criminally underutilized movie stars—Jon Hamm—in the lead role of a wisecracking investigative journalist who finds himself in various sticky situations. Hamm turns in his most charming performance since “The Bubble” episode of 30 Rock, while Kyle MacLachlan channels his bizarre Twin Peaks energy in a hilarious scene in which he dances solo to EDM. The whole thing is orchestrated by Greg Mottola, the director behind comedy hits like Superbad and Adventureland.

But Hollywood hasn’t figured out what to do with mid-budget comedies since superhero movies took over the box office. When you look at 2022 domestic box office figures, you’d have to scroll down to no. 13 (The Lost City) to find a comedy that is not also a Marvel movie (Thor: Love and Thunder, no. 7). Still, you would think, given the tremendous success of other hilarious whodunits like Knives Out and Only Murders in the Building, that Miramax would be screaming from the rooftops that Confess, Fletch is a crowdpleaser audiences should flock to. Like those other projects, it features movie stars, a cast of kooky characters, and a mystery that will keep viewers tuned in.

Yet somehow the studio mounted virtually no marketing campaign for Confess, Fletch. It was released on streaming services the same day it hit a very limited number of movie theaters. As of the publication of this story, the film is playing in exactly one cinema across all five boroughs of New York City.

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A perfect vehicle for an underrated star

Confess, Fletch deserved far better. The movie begins with Hamm’s Fletch finding a dead body in a luxury townhouse that his Italian girlfriend is renting in Boston. The police arrive and assume that Fletch is the killer, but Fletch is nonplussed. As he explains over and over again, he used to be an “investigative journalist of some note,” and he’s confident that he’ll breezily find his way out of this mess. And besides, he has his own, separate mystery to pursue: the disappearance of his girlfriend’s father and some of his most valuable paintings, including a Picasso.

The movie ambles into the world of the Boston elite. Fletch goes undercover at a yacht club clambake and as a reporter receiving a tour from a Goop-like lifestyle guru, disguises he can pull off because he, well, looks like Jon Hamm. He gleefully helps the rich and famous make fools of themselves as he hunts for clues.

In the wrong hands, Fletch might turn smarmy. Chevy Chase starred in two Fletch films in the ’80s, and in retrospect his overconfidence and privilege haven’t aged all that well. But Hamm, who has frustratingly been confined to playing gruff cops and military men (see, most recently, Top Gun: Maverick) since his Emmy-winning turn on Mad Men, has found a perfect vehicle for his charm.

Hamm’s version is less cruel and more hapless than Chase’s. As this modern Fletch fumbles his way through a mystery, Hamm musters the movie-star charisma needed to convince the audience to go along with his dubious plans. And he often plays the straight man in comedic scenes, allowing his fellow performers to shine, like when he tries to put off his girlfriend’s stepmother (Marcia Gay Harden) and her over-the-top attempts to seduce him, or when he follows around his neighbor (Bridesmaids’ Annie Mumolo) and literally puts out fires as she creates chaos in her kitchen.

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A missed opportunity

In an interview with Uproxx, Mottola expressed confusion and frustration that the movie was unceremoniously dumped online, where it is available to rent on Prime, Vudu, and iTunes, until it premieres on Showtime on Oct. 28. He said that Hamm gave up 60 percent of his paycheck in order to fund extra days of shooting and finish the film. Mottola, too, gave back part of his salary because he believed in the movie.

Usually this sort of treatment is reserved for bad movies. But Confess, Fletch is not only good, it’s the exact sort of film that should be heavily promoted on streaming services—a midweek laugh that goes down easy. Miramax does not have a streaming service of its own, and it’s easy to imagine a movie like this thriving on Netflix, had a studio with built-in streaming distribution produced it. Indeed, given that Netflix cut a $400 million deal for a series of Knives Out films with director Rian Johnson, it’s surprising that streamers like Hulu and HBO Max aren’t begging for a series of these Fletch movies that could reinvent Hamm as a mainstream comedian and lure mystery lovers to their services.

In fact, for decades, Hollywood was seemingly eager to make a Fletch movie. The Chevy Chase movies were hits, and since then, producers have approached a variety of A-listers including Ben Affleck and Ryan Reynolds to reprise the role. The movie never got off the ground, in part because it was embroiled in Harvey Weinstein drama, and in part because few wanted to follow Chase’s performance. The fact that Hamm was eager to produce and star in an adaptation would seem a fortuitous turn of events.

The fate of Fletch is up in the air: Mottola says there’s talk of a sequel, though the studio’s unceremonious treatment of Confess would suggest a follow-up is unlikely. That would be a shame. There’s a reason movies like Knives Out and shows like Only Murders in the Building are huge hits. They offer audiences the coziness of a murder mystery but the levity of farce. Confess, Fletch is a delightful entry in this burgeoning mashup genre. Hollywood should be making more movies like it.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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