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‘Maverick’ (PG)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1994

How the West was fun: "Maverick" is affectionate, amiable, eager-to-please, in a TV-movieish sort of way. You'll want to call it "Mav," for short, the way everyone in this Mild West spoof casually calls Mel Gibson, as frontier hero Bret Maverick.

It's Mel's movie, no question about that. He green-lighted it, his Icon company produced it and he got his "Lethal Weapon" director Richard Donner to ride herd. The names above the title also include James Garner, who played Maverick in the 1957 TV series, and Jodie Foster in a role originally pitched to Meg Ryan, but they are mostly stuck sitting on the fence.

Gibson's Maverick is a charming, somewhat goofy and garrulous card sharp on his way to a half-million dollar all-night poker tournament aboard a riverboat. All he needs is the $25,000 entry fee -- everyone west of the Mississippi owes him money and he sets out to collect.

He crosses paths with Annabelle Bransford (Foster), a coy con-woman with the hokiest Southern accent east of the Pacific, who also has her cheatin' heart set on that big kitty. This pair of jokers becomes three of a kind when they run into retired lawman Zane Cooper (Garner). Sharing a stagecoach, these three cards take turns fleecing, endangering and rescuing each other before the (anti-)climactic poker game and the suspense-free "surprise ending."

"Mav" makes grand use of its wide-screen Western locations -- pastel canyons, dusty frontier towns, riverboats churning down muddy rivers. It was scripted by William Goldman, who wrote "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," but the whole enterprise has an ad-libbed, stars-just-want-to-have-fun feeling.

Gibson, who has perfected his light comic touch as the highly flappable Maverick, does his own stunts, and takes off his shirt faster than he draws his six-shooter. Foster, on the other hand, is tucked and tied in all manner of lacy and frilly corsets and bustiers, as befits a flirtatious frontier gal. Her character is overdressed but underwritten; she simpers and flutters in a mighty bad Vivien Leigh impression.

Half the fun of "Maverick" is keeping an eye peeled for celebrity cameos. Danny Glover, Gibson's "Lethal" co-star, shows up as a bank robber and even gets his standard line: "I'm getting too old for this {expletive}."

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