Why Kevin Smith's Fletch Movie Starring Ben Affleck Fell Apart

The first of author Gregory McDonald's "Fletch" novels was published in 1974. The title character of the McDonald's nine books was Irwin Maurice Fletcher, an ex-Marine investigative journalist with a penchant for disguises. Fletch is a bit of a slovenly cad, and he is constantly outrunning attorneys who seek alimony payments from various ex-wives. The first novel involves Fletch investigating drug traffic on the Los Angeles beaches as well as the mysterious, well-paid request from a dying millionaire that Fletch euthanize him. 

"Fletch" was very loosely adapted to film in 1985 with Chevy Chase in the title role and with Michael Ritchie ("The Bad News Bears," "Semi-Tough") directing. The film was less a rundown detective story than a light comedy, and a lot of "Fletch" focuses on Chase's disguises and the comedian's ability to improvise. The story — the investigation of a millionaire asking to be euthanized — was kept intact. The film was a notable success at the box office, and developed a small cult following. A sequel called "Fletch Lives" was made in 1989.

Over the years, multiple attempts have been made to get "Fletch" started up again. According to a 2010 article in EW, there were false starts on "Fletch" reboots starring Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Joshua Jackson. The closest a "Fletch" reboot ever came to actual production, however, was likely Kevin Smith's attempts to make "Fletch Won" (based on the 1985 McDonald book) in the late 1990s. The idea was that Jason Lee (from Smith's "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," and "Dogma") was to play Fletch. 

Smith has talked about "Fletch Won" several times over the years, and most recently brought it up again at the 2022 premiere of "Clerks III."

Fletch Won

In a video call with host Mark Bernardin, Smith mentioned the premise of his intended version of "Fletch Won," merely saying:

"I almost made a 'Fletch' movie years ago. Or I was trying to for years with Jason Lee as a young Fletch. There's a book in the series called 'Fletch Won' that Gregory McDonald wrote way late in the series that went back and told his secret origin story of how Fletch first got a job at the [news]paper. One of my favorite ****in' books of all time, still."

Smith, however, went into much more detail in a 2013 Facebook post, handily archived in an article on Film Buff Online. Smith explained that he was to make "Fletch Won" for Miramax, headed by Harvey Weinstein at the time. Weinstein once claimed that "Fletch" was to be Miramax's first film franchise (Smith's own View Askewniverse notwithstanding), but bristled at the idea of Jason Lee leading the film. Smith said that Weinstein wanted Affleck in the lead role as he was the more "bankable" star at the time. 

Concurrently, Affleck was eventually offered a Special Project outside of Smith's efforts. Affleck tried to get the director on board. Said Smith:

"[I]t all came to a head in 2003, while I was in post-production on 'Jersey Girl,' when Ben Affleck had been offered the lead in 'a movie' at Disney (This is in the days before Ben had ever realized his true, Oscar-caliber calling, mind you). Ben asked if I wanna direct this movie in which he's gonna be the lead. Exciting: I'd never directed someone else's feature script before. I read the script and it was fun, but making it with my friend would make it even more so, I figured. So with Ben's encouragement, I say 'Okay.'"

The Affleck version

Smith said that when he announced to Weinstein that he was going to make a Special Project movie — one that he didn't write — with Ben Affleck at Disney, Weinstein didn't take it well. Miramax was owned by Disney at the time, and Weinstein was trying to split off and form his own production company (this was due to a legal kerfuffle over Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11.") The idea that Smith would break off to direct for Disney caused egos to flare up, and Weinstein and Disney had to look over Smith's contract; Smith's projects had to be pitched to Miramax first. Smith, figuring that "Fletch" was a directing-only job, felt safe that he could split away. 

Smith explains that he was guilted into turning down the Disney deal due to a strong sense of company loyalty he felt at the time. He said: 

"Harvey told Disney their proposed Ben-starring/Kevin-directed movie would now be a co-prod, based on my Miramax overall deal. Disney declined the 'offer,' so I was then instructed by both Harvey and Bob to turn the gig down. I pointed out that my deal allowed me to direct for somebody else, but there were a metric s***-ton of guilt-ridden 'family' and 'us; and 'them' terms thrown at me. And that's all it took: because as much as I loved Ben, I was 100% Miramax in those days. I was in the coolest gang in town and I'd die for my colors."

Smith has since gone on record about Weinstein after news of his persistent sexual assault broke and the producer was ousted and arrested. 

More finagling

Smith, going into great detail, described a push-and-pull that then ensued between he and Weinstein over who should play "Fletch." Weinstein said that he would begrudgingly produce "Fletch Won," but only with Affleck in the lead and never mind that Affleck was still set to make a Special Project over at Disney. Weinstein, evidently to spite Disney, ended up putting a very well-moneyed version of "Fletch Won" into production. Smith recalled an intense two-week period wherein locations were scouted and production offices were set up. Smith knew that fast productions typically cost more, and he acknowledged how much was being spent. Smith revealed the intended budget was set to be $50 million. 

It was Affleck's refusal to leave Disney and Smith's persistent Miramax loyalty that ultimately undid the whole project. As Smith said: 

"But mercifully, before the proposed $50 million version of 'Fletch Won' could happen (their budget, not mine), Ben mercifully passed. He said he didn't feel right about flat-leaving Disney and was gonna stick around to make that flick. I didn't go with Ben to Disney. Ben was cool about it: he said he'd never understand my loyalty-thing to Harvey but he still respected it. See, Harvey knew he had me regardless. Being Miramax MEANT something to me – a code I lived by. We were a gang of NY. It was 'Us vs. All Them.'"

The Special Project that Affleck couldn't walk away from, Smith reveals, was ironically a film that ended up at Warner Bros., and a film Affleck would never make. The Special Project was the 2009 Mark Waters comedy "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." You can blame that film as the reason "Fletch Won" never saw light of day.