Jason Sudeikis is in serious talks to play Irwin M. Fletcher (a.k.a. John Cocktolstoy, a.k.a. Dr. Rosenrosen, a.k.a. Arnold Babar) in Fletch Won, based on Gregory McDonald’s novels about a smooth-talking journalist. Chevy Chase starred in a hit 1985 comedy (as well as a less beloved 1989 sequel), but reviving the character has been a long and torturous ordeal. Now, Warner Bros., which acquired the rights to the character in 2011, has approved a script from the man who’s been guiding the project for more than 14 years: David List, a former literary agent, the late McDonald’s former manager, and first-time screenwriter.
“The project was in limbo,” says List. “It required someone to just completely rethink what the project is, and I came up with just a whole new take. It’s a real origin story. Most people never knew this, because they’re more familiar with the original film, but the tone of Greg’s novels was much grittier. A bit darker. Edgier. I wanted to go back to that.”
Okay, but the real question is: In 2014, who exactly is I.M. Fletcher?
When the first novel was published in 1974, at the height of Watergate, the idea of a crusading journalist was very much en vogue, and even in 1985, when Chase made the role his own, the role of newspapers was still a credible force. In 2014, though… not so much. “Fletch is not even with the newspaper when we meet him in this film,” says List. “The element that was the genesis for my take was one line, I think, that was used in two of Greg’s books. Although you never saw him in this way in the novels, in two books, Greg mentioned that Fletch used to be a Marine who had actually won the Bronze Star. Just a passing line, but that was my starting point.”
The working title, Fletch Won, is the same as McDonald’s 1985 novel, the eighth in the series but a flashback that reintroduced Fletch at the beginning of his career. However, the new script isn’t tied to that tale. “What launches the characters into the mystery is an element that was not in the books,” says List. “But it uses elements from the novel and incorporates them into an intricate fun contemporary mystery, which along the way, Fletch meets [editor] Frank Jaffe. And their relationship that develops is also a lot of fun.”
To the point of a darker and edgier Fletch, List points to two of the film’s 1980s contemporaries — Midnight Run and Beverly Hills Cop — for the grittier tone he’s aiming for, rather than Chase’s more cartoonish antics as the character. “This is not about false teeth and falling down and wearing costumes,” says List. “The character is much more grounded. Fletch has many of the characteristics of a real Byronic hero. He’s a seeker of the truth. That’s all he’s driven by. And he’ll lie through his teeth to get at it.”
Sudeikis’ representatives did not respond to EW’s request for comment following a report in the Hollywood Reporter linking him to the project, but List says the actor has had meetings with the producers and the studio about the role and that the project is being shopped to potential directors as Sudeikis-as-Fletch. “Fletch is sort of hallowed ground [to a lot of actors], and my hat’s off to Jason,” says List. “It does take a certain amount of confidence to step into these big shoes, but I think he’s going to be great. To me, Jason is that perfect balance of what Fletch should be.”