Thursday, September 10, 2009

“I know what you're thinking, he's old and decrepit, gums his food AND his women…but he can still shoot straight.”

Haven’t done any Westerns here at RMWC yet, and I think it’s a genre that I’ve been criminally underrating. After all, cowboys stand among the iconic film archetypes, standing up for justice and truth in a lawless land. 1994’s Maverick doesn’t actually feature those kinds of cowboys. Actually, nobody’s really honest in Richard Donner’s adaptation of the classic TV series, but then again, would you expect a movie about a Wild West card shark to be straightforward?

Our hero, a poker playing magnificent bastard has two goals in life. First, he wants to make a lot of money. Second, he wants to not die. He’s something of a coward, and really more of a scam artists than an adventurer, but his goal is to make it to “The Big Game,” where a hefty prize goes to the winner. Along they way he meets his female match and a lawman who doesn’t approve of his cowardly, shystering ways. ADVENTURE! and hilarity ensues for 127 minutes.

Bret Maverick: Mel Gibson is your smiling, cowardly, contingency planning frontier conman, and he’s a magnificent bastard. Like a good poker player, he never shows his full hand and always hides his tells, but I can’t really go further into his character because…well, spoilers. Needless to say, he’s this movie’s Badass for always figuring out a way.

Annabelle Bransford: Jodie Foster is the romantic foil for Maverick, a sassy, resourceful thief and con woman who’s not bad at poker, either. She and Gibson have good chemistry as they bicker on screen.

Marshal Zane Cooper: Veteran actor James Garner (who was the original Maverick on the TV series) plays a straight laced lawman who eventually crosses paths with Maverick and Annabelle before becoming the enforcer of fair play at the Big Game.

Joseph: Graham Greene (who was Edgar Montrose on Red Green) is an Indian chief whom the heroes come across in a tense moment. Well, tense until Maverick strikes up a conversation with him in his language and reveals that A) they’re old friends, and B) Maverick’s going to leave those saps behind and hang out with his Indian buddy. What follows is, well, it’s a digression that serves the plot by getting Maverick some money to enter the tournament, but mostly its an excuse for an interlude of undiluted hilarity as Maverick & Joseph con a Russian Archduke into “killing an Indian” (Maverick in disguise).

Angel: It took me a while to realize that Maverick’s rival/enemy was Alfred Molina, but yeah he’s the Bad Guy of the movie. A pretty ruthless thug and violent to boot, he does not take getting embarrassed by Maverick very well.

Commodore Duvall: The late, great Western actor James Coburn as the man hosting the Big Game on a riverboat. He doesn’t do a whole lot, but he’s still awesome.

Danny Glover’s also got a cameo in this movie as a bank robber who runs into Maverick’s character during a heist. As Glover’s gang escape town, he grunts the immortal line “I’m getting too old for this shit.” It’s a great little moment. Quite a few other big names have cameo roles, from Margot Kidder to Reba McEntire, John Fogerty, Waylon Jennings, Corey Feldman and Clint Black (yes, I had to look that up, I’m not THAT good at spotting cameos).

Richard Donner. Get used to that name, because there are a lot of movies coming down the RMWC pike that will have his name attached. Anywho, Donner does a great job of using the American Southwest’s natural beauty to frame shots, convey mood and keep the pacing quick and light. Action scenes are generally lighthearted, but quite fun. I should mention the pacing once more. The entire movie is very episodic, with transitional elements, but generally you can easily divide parts of it up into: Maverick’s introduction, Maverick on the Stagecoach and fighting Bandits, Maverick & Joseph scam a Russian, Maverick’s brush with death, Maverick at the Big Game, Maverick and the End of the Movie. That’s a lot of segments, and it’s a credit to the filmmakers that the movie has all of that and still clips forward at an impressive speed.

WritingRoy Huggins created the original character of Maverick and William Goldman (the guy who, among a bevy of other things, wrote the Princess freakin’ awesome Bride) wrote the movie script. Dialog is sharp, witty and the plot is full of insane twists as various characters scheme to screw other characters over. It turns out that everybody’s crooked, but even then, the end of the movie has a killer payoff of magnificent bastardy that needs to be seen. Great stuff.

Randy Newman, better known as the singer/songwriter who made “Short People” and “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” delivers a great Wild West soundtrack. The licensed songs by Country artists are also appropriate.

Maverick is a great film. It takes action, slapstick, wordplay, plot twists and a spirit of ADVENTURE! and makes an awesome movie that’s sadly underrated. As far as movies adapted from a popular television show, this is really how things should be handled. Absolutely recommended.

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