“Maverick” is a comedy from start to finish — and a good one at that. Mel Gibson stars as the card-playing, wisecracking con artist Bret Maverick. James Garner plays Marshal Zane Cooper (Maverick’s dad) and makes it clear where Bret gets his attributes. Jodie Foster shows off her comedy chops as the beautiful Annabelle Bransford, who is burdened by neither morals nor a husband.
After a variety of travails and adventures, Bret and Annabelle try to gather up the last of their $25,000 entry fees by almost any means possible and wind up on the paddle steamer Lauren Belle, playing in a $500,000, winner-take-all, five-card draw poker tournament. Commodore Duvall, played by James Coburn, runs the tournament, but the game is not as clean as the commodore wants everyone to believe. Spectators and players alike are quirky, sneaky and fun to watch, and more than once, you’ll do a double take as you try to figure out who they are in “real life.”
“Maverick” never pretends to be anything other than a good old-fashioned comedy, and it never fails to deliver. It just happens to be set in the Old West, but the cinematography and costumes are beautiful and well worth the price of admission.
“Maverick” was a star vehicle, and there was no shortage of them, with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner in key roles. James Coburn also has a large role, as does Alfred Molina. Graham Greene has a hilarious role as a corrupt Indian chief. Richard Donner directed and, along with Bruce Davey, co-produced the film. William Goldman wrote the screenplay. Randy Newman handled the music, and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond did a beautiful job of capturing the Old West. April Ferry was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
The movie had a few cameo guest stars, including Danny Glover (uncredited) as a bank robber and Margot Kidder (also uncredited) as Margaret Mary, a missionary.
And one of the movie’s biggest stars is the riverboat, Lauren Belle, which was actually the Portland, the nation’s last remaining sternwheel tugboat at the time of the filming.
“Maverick” is just plain fun. Most Westerns are based on a handful of predictable conflict stories: ranchers vs. homesteaders, cowboys vs. Indians, outlaw gunmen vs. lone sheriff, etc. The tension builds and is usually resolved at the end of the movie, typically also at the end of a revolver. The movies are no less enjoyable because they are somewhat formulaic. As a matter of fact, that may be, and probably is, part of the attraction.
But “Maverick” is different. It pokes fun at the traditional Western genre, all the while being respectful. Bret Maverick is a self-effacing self-proclaimed coward, yet is not at all. The scene where he backs down a would-be gunfighter by purposefully misdrawing his gun is reminiscent of the Doc Holliday scene in “Tombstone” where he does the same thing, only using a tin cup. You get all the good tension-building storylines, but with terrifically funny scenes thrown in. Plus, Jodie Foster is stunningly beautiful as Annabelle Bransford.
At any moment, a country music festival could have broken out on the set. On board the Lauren Belle as gamblers or spectators were such country music luminaries as Reba McEntire, Vince and Janis Gill, Carlene Carter, and Kathy Mattea. Additionally, Waylon Jennings made a brief appearance where he is apprehended for concealing guns, and Clint Black plays a gambler caught cheating in the tournament and is thrown overboard for his troubles.