"Fletch" remains Chevy Chase's best movie as far as I'm concerned, but "Fletch Lives," which could just as easily be "Fletch II," I suppose, is up there with "Foul Play," "Seems Like Old Times" and "National Lampoon's Vacation" as one of his better efforts.

If you liked the first "Fletch," with Chase as I.M. Fletcher, a Los Angeles newspaper reporter who writes investigative stories under the byline "Jane Doe" and dons preposterous disguises and even more preposterous names to gather information, you'll doubtless like this one as well.The alimony-dodging Fletch is an endearing character and gives Chase an opportunity to perform goofball comedy sketches in context without slowing down the plot.

In this sequel, that plot, however unimportant to the overall proceedings, has Fletch inheriting a Southern plantation in Louisiana, thinking he's in for the good life - and prompting the film's most inspired moment, an elaborate musical fantasy spoof of "Song of the South," with Fletch leading a chorus if "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah," complete with animated friends.

Alas, the plantation is in disrepair and Fletch hasn't the funds to fix it up. Then he gets an unbelievable offer on the place. But when he's suspiciously hesitant he finds himself embroiled in a mystery involving murder, mayhem and a wild-eyed televangelist.

Along the way, donning his various disguises and such names as Billy Gene King, Peggy Lee Zorba and Elmer Fudd Gantry, Fletch has run-ins with a sadistic motorcycle gang, a tough sheriff, the Ku Klux Klan, a seductive real estate agent and the aforementioned evangelist, who runs "Bibleland," a hilarious sendup of Jim and Tammy's Heritage USA.

Whether you go for this will, of course, depend largely on your affection for Chase, whose wise-guy arrogance can be irritating sometimes.

I don't mean to oversell "Fletch Lives." Though there are plenty of hearty laughs, there are also a number of jokes that fall flat, in particular a tasteless running verbal gag and Cleavon Little's pseudo-Stepin Fetchit characterization. It's also easy to figure out who the killer is - too easy. The first "Fletch" had a much more interesting mystery plot.

But on the whole, I got a kick out of this one and found Chase in rare form.

"Fletch Lives" is rated PG for some violence, profanity, sex and vulgarity.