Maverick (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Maverick may be as close as anything comes to a perfect summer movie (as opposed to a perfect movie). It has great action sequences, more than a splash of legitimately-funny humor, solid performances from engaging actors, and a script that doesn't demand much mental exercise. This is pure entertainment that gets the 1994 summer season off to a running start.

Lethal Weapon's Richard Donner and Mel Gibson have teamed up again in this comedy/adventure/western that recalls, but does not imitate, the 1950s television series. Along for the ride is James Garner, who millions will remember as the original Bret Maverick, and Donner makes a wise decision in giving him more than a token speaking part. Garner's laid back persona is the perfect contrast to the high-voltage Gibson. Two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster is effervescent in a role that requires little dramatic range but a flair for comedy. Foster's Annabelle Bransford is delightful, especially when paired with Gibson. There's a spark between them.

The story involves Maverick and Annabelle's attempts to get to a big Saint Louis riverboat poker game where the entry fee is $25,000. Each is short by a few grand, and they go from town-to-town trying to win, steal, or cheat others out of it. They meet in Crystal River, and soon find themselves on the same runaway coach out of town, in the company of itinerant lawman Zane Cooper (Garner).

Maverick features gun fights, fist fights, an attempted hanging, and a tete-a-tete with rattlesnakes -- but none of these sequences are graphic or gory. The film is basically lighthearted, so there aren't too many deaths or maimings. Donner has a great deal of fun incorporating parodies of past movies into this one. The most inspired is a quick flash to his own Lethal Weapon. There's also an extended Dances with Wolves sequence, featuring Wolves' Graham Greene as a hip Indian who cheats the white man. Maverick also pays tribute to screenwriter William Goldman's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The strength of Maverick is the ease with which it switches from comedy to action, and back again. For the most part, the pacing is excellent, although at more than two hours, the film goes on for a little too long. No drama is needed, nor is it in evidence. The well-crafted Maverick does everything it sets out to do. For big-budget summer films, from which more and more is demanded, this is becoming an increasingly-difficult task, so it's refreshing to find something that satisfies expectations. To paraphrase the lead character, Maverick rarely bluffs and never, ever cheats its audience.

Maverick (United States, 1994)

Run Time: 2:09
U.S. Release Date: 1994-05-20
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1