This is an irreverent, zestful romp for three stars who team up to poke fun at every imaginable Western cliche.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Maverick" is an irreverent, zestful romp for three stars who team up to poke fun at every imaginable Western cliche. With winks in their eyes, they play games with a runaway stagecoach, the hangman's noose, crooked card games and bank robbers. Their good spirits lift the picture to inspired spoof status in the avalanche of New Age westerns.

Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson), Annabelle Bransford (Jody Foster) and Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner) are charming rogues, con artists who can barely contain the pleasure of their wicked ways. Outdoing each other is their delight, and they sustain the contest with good humor for two hours.

Maverick wears the persona of a gambler who pretends to be a coward. The truth of that lighthearted lie is that his gun fairly jumps out of its holster every time someone crosses him, and he loves every second of the confrontation. On the prowl for entry fee money for the poker sweepstakes in St. Louis, Maverick sits down to a small-town card game and meets Annabelle Bransford (Foster), whose good looks mask her bad intentions.

Gibson sets the tone in the first scene. In the classic catastrophe of the man with his head in a noose, astride a horse about to turn skittish at approaching rattlesnakes, he begs his animal to stay "steady, fella, don't move now." Any word or deed of substance would be ridiculous after that, and, mercifully, none is forthcoming.

Maverick is uncharacteristically slow to realize that Annabelle is his match in deviltry, but when he does, their competition becomes the funny bone of the movie. Jodie Foster shows a new side of her talent. Unpredictable, light and subtle, she plays equally well with each of her leading men. James Garner, who brought Maverick to the small TV screen in 1957, deadpans the jokes with the same charm he used all those years ago. It's great fun to see him lean into a major role and steal scenes from his young colleagues. This is a happy band of scoundrels.

Filmed in the glorious country of Utah's Glen Canyon National Park, the movie peppers the grand landscape with colorful characters and ludicrous action. Powered by jokes and sight gags, the very thin plot leaves you waiting for the one-liners, and enough of them come to keep most people happy. But these spots of genuine fun just aren't enough to make the whole thing a winner.

When it starts to drag badly, the colorful finale of the St. Louis poker game saves the day with a nice assist from James Coburn as the man who can charge a $25,000 entry fee and still create an extravaganza. It is the charm of the principals that carries the film. Foster, Gibson and Garner have linked arms, it seems, caught the script that was thrown them and said, "Let's have fun with this one."

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 485
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: PG

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