Maverick (1994)


I wasn't around when James Garner first rode into town as the poker-playing cowardly Maverick in the 1960's, but even a younger viewer like me can appreciate the effort put into this classic remake. Perhaps a bit more tongue in cheek than the original and tending on the heavy side with some language, Maverick is a barrel of laughs and even with its flaws manages to entrap my family and friends around the tube for repeat showings.


You've never met a poker player like Maverick (Mel Gibson). He's a true blue coward, something of a bluffer, has little influence over the ladies, and can't hit a dead stump with a bullet at five paces. Which is why the audience so much likes him. Maverick is gearing up for the National Poker Championships, in which the winner will receive a quarter of a million dollars in cash. But he's still three thousand short. For some reason, his friends keep stiffing him for the rest. So he's making the final rounds and praying he won't have to win it all the night before. This has not been an easy trip for Maverick. First his horse was stolen and he was forced to ride somewhat less ceremoniously on a mule. But this isn't where the trouble starts... there's a mean hombre (Alfred Molina) out to keep him from reaching the game. Why, Maverick doesn't know... only that he's got more trouble than a ranch hand with a barrel of rattlers. He heads into town to square up with his banker friend, but the bank is robbed. He manages to win a handful at the poker tables in the saloon, but his wallet is nearly lifted by a charming southern belle.


As it turns out, this beautiful mademoiselle Annabelle Bransford (Jody Foster) is also making her way to the poker championships. She's a cunning, imaginative little pickpocket with a perfect accent and more charm than a snake handler in a pit of rattlers. Then Zane Cooper (James Garner) comes into the picture... an aging lawman going by a forgotten code of ethics. His ideals and Maverick's temperament collide and cause trouble when their stagecoach driver drops dead, and Maverick is required to stop the runaway coach. But this is just the beginning... Maverick is a rip-snortin' barrel of laughs with more impact than a stampeding herd of buffalo at a dead run. Satire and irony all the way through, the film takes great pleasure in mocking the old west with a certain degree of nose-thumbing at political correctness. The hero is a wimpy gambler who uses his brains rather than brawn to get out of near-impossible situations. The heroine is a sly con woman who manages to cheat Maverick out of a lot of money.


As for Zane Cooper... his true identity may surprise you. There are some truly engaging and unforgettable scenes... such as the runaway coach, the Indian encampment, and the final poker game. Plots and characters unfold at a rapid pace until you're almost reeling with the unforeseen facts. The costuming, dialogue, and acting are all first-rate. Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster take pleasure in playing off one another's characteristics and the banter between them is nothing less than hilarious. Unfortunately, before you leap on your mustang and tear off to the nearest Blockbuster, Maverick has his flaws. Violence is present but not overly gory. There are a few gunfights and one or two brawls (one with a humorous twist). Sensuality is present in passionate kissing (mostly played for laughs) and a scene in which the two leads roll around on a bed. But language is the film's main flaw with numerous profanities. Thankfully there's only one harsh abuse of deity, but "son of a..." is used flippantly. Screen before allowing younger children to view the film, which shows no consequences for gambling or stealing and has a scene of implied premarital sex.


The action's good, the plot is brilliant, the suspense nothing short of nail-biting, and the film has a twist ending that'll knock your socks off... if you're still wearing them. An entertaining film and an enjoyable watch, but only if you keep the abovementioned cautions in mind.


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