Tuesday 10 May 2011

Movie Review: Maverick (1994)

A comedy western injected with a high dose of star-powered charisma, Maverick is highly polished entertainment that gallops down familiar trails with wild abandon and broad smiles.

The stars line up in perfect alignment, with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, James Garner, and James Coburn comfortably slipping into the ideal western world where all the cliches happily apply and every serious situation can be resolved with quick wit, quick guns or quick fists.

Gibson as Bret Maverick floods the screen with boyish charisma, and there is nothing he cannot do: charmer of the ladies, quick-draw with the guns, unbeatable with the fists, dapper in his clothes, ever-ready with the witty retort, friendly with the Indians and a winner with the poker hand. Foster as Annabelle Bransford is all fake coquettish southern charm, as she seduces her way into every bulging pocket. James Garner's Marshal Cooper is more (and less) than what he seems, trying to project some law and order on proceedings but mainly creating a nostalgic link back to the Maverick television series in which he starred back in the late 1950s.

The plot revolves around Maverick making his way to a major riverboat poker championship, and trying to scrounge together $3,000 to round out the $25,000 he needs as an entry fee. Maverick encounters Annabelle, also a gambler trying to get into the same tournament, and who makes most of her living by stealing from the men that she pretends to befriend. Maverick's winning ways leave a trail of enemies in his wake, but regardless of efforts to stop him he makes it to the tournament hosted by Commodore Duvall (Coburn) with security provided by Marshal Cooper. The poker tournament and its aftermath take many twists and turns, with Maverick naturally at the centre of any and all controversy.

Richard Donner tilts the balance firmly towards humour and allows the romance, action, gambling, and characters to feed the laughs. A few scenes do miss the mark, notably a tasteless shoot-the-Indian detour that is meant as satire but just falls flat. But most of Maverick is a riot, with highlights including a dead coach driver, a one-on-many fist-and-stick fight, deliciously spiky attraction between Maverick and Annabelle, an unexpected cameo from Danny Glover allowing a wink towards his partnership with Gibson in the Lethal Weapon series, and endless clever banter around the poker table.

With a crisp deck of stars, director and material, Maverick deals a winning hand.

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