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MAVERICK

From the May 20, 1994, Deseret News

MAVERICK — Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, James Garner, Graham Greene, James Coburn, Alfred Molina; rated PG (violence, profanity, sex).

Mel Gibson is delightful as the charming rambling gambler Bret Maverick in this big-screen remake of the beloved 1950s TV series. For those who don't know, "Maverick" was a western with a wry and witty sense of humor, at once lampooning and embracing the genre as Bret became the first TV cowboy who would rather talk his way out of trouble than use his gun.

And since James Garner originated the role of Bret Maverick on television, it was certainly inspired casting to bring him aboard the movie version as U.S. Marshal Zane Cooper, who seems to be dogging our hero's every move.

Add to the mix Jodie Foster as con artist Annabelle Bransford, demonstrating an unexpected flair for physical comedy, and Graham Greene, doing his patented comic American Indian with a "boy-you-white-men-sure-are-dumb" chip on his shoulder, and you have sure-fire comic potential.

To a fair degree, that potential is achieved, although somewhere along the way screenwriter William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Princess Bride") and director Richard Donner (the "Lethal Weapon" movies) have forgotten how understated the source material was, instead going for more showy, elaborate set-pieces and big slapstick gags.

Furthermore, Donner and Gibson confess to having adlibbed an awful lot of the wisecracking dialogue here, and it isn't always to the film's advantage.

The storyline has Bret traveling around the countryside, catching up with old friends who owe him money. He's trying to get $25,000 together so he can enter a high-stakes, winner-take-all riverboat poker game being run by the Commodore (James Coburn).

But Bret keeps bumping into the lovely and wily Annabelle, who snuggles up to him so she can lift his wallet, as well as Marshal Cooper, who is apparently suspicious of Bret's gambling activities. Even more dangerous are Bret's encounters with the malevolent Angel (Alfred Molina), who has been charged with keeping him from reaching that championship game.

In a series of loopy encounters, Goldman and Donner keep the adventure and the comedy at a high pitch, while rooting the film's sensibilities firmly in the '90s — unfortunately, that's the 1990s. There's a constant, glib winking-at-the-audience mentality that wears out its welcome after awhile and some the comic action is just too bombastic. (Not that anyone ever accused Donner of subtlety.)

Still, the pleasures here are many, including some surprise cameo appearances by movie stars, country singing stars and old TV Western stars. There is also a double or triple twist ending that will surprise you.

It's easy to complain that the film isn't as wry and witty as any random episode of the old TV series, and where Garner's original character was low-key, dry and sophisticated, Gibson's seems more rough-and-tumble and histrionic.

But Gibson is a pleasure to watch, Foster performs some wonderfully amusing slapstick and the reliable Garner, as always, is the epitome of smooth charm and unflappable sophistication. And the supporting players — especially Green and Molina — seem to be having fun.

As a bonus, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Deer Hunter") offers some fabulous footage of southern Utah — down around Lake Powell — in the film's first quarter.

"Maverick" won't win any awards . . . unless you count box office receipts. But fans of the stars will have a great time with this first popcorn picture of the summer season. (Or, with all the bad press popcorn's getting these days, maybe we should call it the first Raisinets picture of the summer season.)

The film is rated PG for violence, profanity, some vulgarity and a comic sex scene.