Looking Back At MAVERICK - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At MAVERICK

Martin Rayburn remembers how the west was fun.
It's easy to forget just what a cinematic powerhouse of a leading actor Mel Gibson was before he basically cancelled himself. The Mad Max series, Braveheart, the Lethal Weapon films, Bird on a Wire, Tequila Sunrise, Ransom and Conspiracy Theory are just a few of his acting successes and box office golds. Tucked away during those years, and often overlooked by many, is a 1994 gem of a film based on the television series of the 1950s, the comedy-western Maverick where Gibson plays the title character of Bret Maverick, and palpably has a blast in doing so.

A gambler and adventurer in the Old West, Maverick is as skilled at playing casino games as he is in using his quick wit to get himself out of trouble. Wanting to enter a major poker tournament, but lacking the entry fee of $25,000, the film tells the story of how Maverick manages to scrape together the required money whilst getting into trouble, out of trouble, and back into trouble again! It also follows his dealings with three people he meets along the way; Marshal Zane Cooper, a lawman based upon Wyatt Earp and played by the late great James Garner, a rival poker player Angel played by Alfred Molina (an ironically named character as he is far from angelic) and a young thief and con-woman named Annabelle Bransford who is wonderfully portrayed by Jodie Foster in a rare comedic role.

Neither Maverick nor Annabelle are, morally speaking, particularly admirable individuals. He is a wisecracking adventurer who lives by his wits; his code of ethics as a professional gambler might prevent him from cheating at the poker table, but he is not always so scrupulous in other areas of his life, although he is occasionally capable of a generous gesture. She makes a living out of stealing and swindling, normally from men who are attracted to her good looks. After we're introduced to the main players, it's clear very early on exactly how the film's going to pan out at the end, but really the plot is second to the extremely fun character driven story and watching them get from A to B through various MacGuffins.
As Maverick is a character driven vehicle, and as neither of the main characters are exactly admirable people, it's important for them to be sympathetic and likeable, and both Gibson and Foster succeed in this. Gibson's Maverick comes across as a likable rogue and Foster makes Annabelle charming and winning enough for us to overlook the fact that she is a scheming minx. James Garner as Marshal Cooper is not just the sort of in-joke that modern casting directors love (Garner played Bret Maverick in the original television series, long before his Rockford Files days) but reminds the world what a tremendously talented actor he was, matching his younger co-stars at every beat.

Director Richard Donner, who had earlier worked with Gibson in three installments of the Lethal Weapon franchise and was later to direct him in a fourth as well as in Conspiracy Theory, delivers an entertaining mixture of humor and thrills, often combining the two in the same scene, such as the one where Maverick is desperately trying to stop a runaway stagecoach in which he, Annabelle and Cooper are traveling. One of the best scenes comes with a cameo from Gibson's Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover. When Glover walks in to rob a bank there is a perfect moment that requires you to know their earlier collaboration. But really there's fun to be had in almost every single scene, like the Lethal Weapon films in that sense, and equally similar is Maverick doesn't really care too much about plausibility. Yet the film ends up as being pretty effective and accurate as a western as well, thanks in no small part to the art direction, set decoration, costumes and effects which are all very well done.
Garner's not the only classic western actor to show-up, as James Coburn, Clint Walker, Leo Gordon, Paul Brineger, Robert Fuller, Doug McClure, Henry Darrow, William Smith and Charles Dierkop all make appearances, some in very small cameos which Maverick is not at all shy to use to the max! As well as Donald Glover, Lethal Weapon's Capt Ed Murphy, Steve Kahan, makes an appearance, and also in small roles are Corey Feldman, Linda Hunt, Waylon Jennings, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill and Superman's Margot Kidder (the original 1978 film having been directed by Donner and Kidder having before that played James Garner's co-star and onscreen love interest in the short-lived early 70s western TV series Nichols). All of the actors, no matter how large a role, look simply filled with joy, all having fun with their part. The only negative thing about the huge amount of cameos is you're constantly pointing them out, but as I say, the plot's not exactly something you need laser focus on and it adds to the overall fun of the piece.

In short, Maverick didn't come her to lose, as the old theme tune used to say, and with a formula that provides a royal flush of entertainment the film is a winner hand's down. Despite often overlooked today, it was a critical and commercial success on release, and almost 30 years on still provides a solid two hours of entertainment. Dig out your DVD, find it on a streaming site, hunt it down from somewhere as Maverick is a delight and you'll thank yourself for watching it again.

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