"I take orders from the Octoboss."


May 20, 1994

You know what – I had never seen MAVERICK until now. But look at these credits, man. Directed by Richard Donner (between LETHAL WEAPON 3 and ASSASSINS), written by William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, HEAT [1986]), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, HEAVEN’S GATE, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), edited by Stuard Baird (DIE HARD 2, THE LAST BOYSCOUT) and Michael Kelly (CRIMEWAVE, BLACK EAGLE), production design by Thomas E. Sanders (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA). Also I immediately wondered “why does this sound exactly like TOY STORY?” and realized that the score was by Randy Newman.

I would not say MAVERICK comes anywhere close to living up to the sum of its parts. But it’s fine. Pretty good for a while. The opening kinda reminded me of another ‘90s western-ish blockbuster sort of based on old TV shows, MASK OF ZORRO, and from me that’s a big compliment. Our hero Bret Maverick is introduced in the midst of a squabble, some guy named Angel (Alfred Molina, also in CABIN BOY, WHITE FANG 2: MYTH OF THE WHITE WOLF and REQUIEM APACHE that year) and his thugs leaving him on his horse in the middle of the desert, hands tied behind his back, noose around his neck, snake dumped in front of the horse to inspire movement.

I was not familiar with the TV show it’s based on, which aired from 1957 to 1962 in different incarnations, sometimes starring James Garner. I just I assumed since it’s a western that Maverick would be a gunfighter or sheriff, something like that. Yeah, at least in this version he excels at the gun business, but he identifies as a gambler. On a typical episode I guess he travels somewhere, makes some bets, I’m sure some sort of trouble happens in some of the episodes, maybe not all. Maybe sometimes he just has a good day and goes on with it, I wouldn’t know.

Here he’s played by Mel Gibson (between directorial projects THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE and BRAVEHEART), apparently left ambiguous so he can be interpreted either as the character James Garner played on the TV show or the son of the character James Garner played on the TV show. And he’s a member of the scoundrel community, hence his current predicament.

What we learn is that Maverick wants to enter the All River’s poker tournament, which takes place on a river boat in St. Louis in four days, but he’s three grand short of the $25,000 entrance fee, so he’s been going around trying to collect money people owe him or win it in poker games. We flash back to where he pisses off this Angel guy during a game at a saloon in Crystal River. He pretends to be a big goof, observes them long enough to point out all of their tells (movie gamblers are fucking supernatural at that shit), scares even legendary gunfighter Johnny Hardin (Max Perlich in his followup to CLIFFHANGER and the Alice in Chains “No Excuses” video) by how impossibly fast he pulls his gun out while explaining that he’s a gambler, not a gun fighter, so his chances would be “zero, absolutely non whatsoever” if they got into a duel. (It’s a funny performance.) He does seem to charm the flirtatious Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster between SOMMERSBY and NELL), but her thing is losing games and then hitting on the winner and stealing the money. He knows what she’s up to, of course, stops her and makes her do his laundry.

Gibson often plays smart asses, but it’s a slightly different, more comical twist on his action trickster persona. He runs with less confidence, wears a prissy “lucky shirt” he brags was made in France, and does an old fashioned “put up your dukes” type fighting stance that gets him laughed at. He gets called a “fancy man” by a guy who tries to whip him, but then he catches the end of the whip, punches the guy out and beats up his friends, as if acting like a dork is how he bluffs people. I think he really can fight, but later it turns out he hired those guys as part of his scam anyway.

He’s got some of the most lovable character actors as his old buddies who owe him money. Geoffrey Lewis (the year after ONLY THE STRONG) plays a banker named Eugene who can’t pay him yet. Graham Greene (THUNDERHEART) plays Joseph, a Native character who subverts western expectations. Maverick is traveling with Mrs. Bransford and Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner around the time of The Rockford Files: I Still Love L.A. tv movie) by stagecoach, they get surrounded by Joseph’s unspecified tribe, and Maverick pretends to make a heroic sacrifice by surrendering to them to allow the other two passage.

Joseph just talks like Graham Greene, not the usual broken English stereotype. In fact, he complains about how they “get all dressed up in war paint and whoop around like idiots” for some Russian archduke (Paul L. Smith [POPEYE, CRIMEWAVE, THE PROTECTOR, RED SONJA, SONNY BOY, DESERT KICKBOXER] in his final theatrical feature) who pays them to see “the real west.” He says “He wants me to speak like they say in the books, y’know? ‘How, white man.’ You people are such assholes.” So they trick the archduke into paying to, he thinks, hunt an Indian (Maverick in warpaint) and then he has to bribe an agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Maverick without warpaint) to avoid getting busted for it.

At the beginning of the movie there’s what I believe is intended as a racist joke (?) where Maverick says in narration that when he met Angel he smelled trouble “…and refried beans.” I have to wonder if Gibson (or Donner?) suggested this line since he talks about fried rice to Jet Li in LETHAL WEAPON 4 – the ol’ “I will insult you by reducing you to one of the only two or three foods my ignorant ass knows about from your culture’s cuisine” move. But he’s better on indigenous issues, not just because one of his best friends is an Indian, but because he makes fun of Mrs. Bransford for her issues with them and makes a sarcastic comment about them “being on our land before we got here.” (Has Mel gone woke!?)

After various shenanigans, of course, Maverick makes it to the All River’s Poker Championship, hosted by Commodore Duvall (James Coburn following DEADFALL and SISTER ACT 2: BACK IN THE HABIT). For me this is where the movie sort of falls apart. Maybe I just didn’t know what I was in for. When it’s some charming dicks pulling scams on each other there is some entertainment there, but now we gotta somehow get invested in a montage of card playing. And as an extra hurdle it’s set to a modern-for-1994 country song (I guess it’s either Tracy Lawrence or Clint Black) that murders the timelessness they had going for almost 90 minutes. The movie culminates in a suspenseful final game that is somewhat effective, but of course it’s hard to forget this is just a made up game and that’s why against all odds every single player has an amazing hand and we’re supposed to pretend that this correlates to their skills, not luck, and that we don’t know for sure but hopefully Maverick is the best and therefore will have the best hand. At least there’s the subplot about his life-long attempts to manifest specific cards using his mind. That adds a little something to it, I admit. But I’d rather see him jump off things and punch guys in the climax, I guess.

One thing about this movie, somebody obviously tipped them off that the superior EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES would be released on the same day with a ton of weird cameos and bit parts in it. So they got desperate and crammed the fuckin thing full of country singers and famous actor walk-ons. The most obvious one is a scene with bank robbers played by Corey Feldman (who worked with Donner in THE GOONIES), Hal Ketchum (who I guess is a country singer) and Danny Glover. Elite deep cut movie buffs probly won’t even catch this but Glover was actually the actor who played Murtaugh in the movies LETHAL WEAPON 1, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and LETHAL WEAPON 3 by Richard Donner. So there’s a closeup of his eyes so you know he’s Danny Glover and then he pulls his handkerchief down to show his face like Lando in Jabba’s Palace and he and Mel Gibson look at each other for a long time and also he says “I’m too old for this shit.” Very hard to explain because it’s so obscure and so subtle almost no one will even notice it, but this is an in-joke.

Anyway, in the tournament you can see BLACULA himself, William Marshall, as well as William Smith, Doug McClure, Dan Hedaya and a bunch of other people that seemed familiar. And country singers including Waylon Jennings, Reba McEntire, Clint Black and Vince Gill are in the movie somewhere or other.

I did not love MAVERICK, but there’s plenty to like about it. The Crystal River set and various landscapes on cliffs and rivers are impressive. I assume most of them are real places they built, though I could be wrong, since I know digital mattes were starting to be used around that time. Anyway, it’s a lush production.

It’s got a little bit of action – always good to have some hanging-from-the-under-carriage-of-a-speeding-coach stunts. (The second unit director and stunt coordinator is Mic Rodgers, a Gibson stunt double who stuck with him for most of his career [and also directed UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN]). Gibson is pretty funny in it. It’s cool to see Garner in a big movie in that era, and he’s not exactly a co-lead or anything but it’s closer to that than a “this is the guy from the TV show” cameo.

It was a pretty big hit, the 15th biggest movie in the world in 1994, and still the 8th highest grossing western of all time according to the-numbers.com. (I guess it wasn’t as expensive as THE LONE RANGER or WILD WILD WEST, since both are above it and both considered massive flops. DJANGO UNCHAINED is #1.)

I’m pretty sure I’ll forget MAVERICK soon, but some people seem to remember it fondly, and I hold no ill will toward them.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024 at 8:33 am and is filed under Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Maverick”

  1. I can imagine that this might grow on you on repeated viewing. It will probably never become a top favourite of yours, but it’s extremely entertaining and rewatchable, although yes, the tournament finale is sadly less entertaining than what came before.

  2. I got a soft spot for this one. It’s perfect easy Hollywood entertainment, big in scale but light on its feet. The Rock’s been trying to make this movie for like two decades now and failing every time.

    But yeah, card games are just not that interesting, and I have always failed to see what directors find so cinematic about them. I guess that’s why screenwriters have to juice them up with magical bullshit, like being good at poker means always being given the best cards, or how every single hand you’ll ever see in a movie would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, the best hand you or anybody you know will ever have, something you’d brag about until the day you die, but in a movie it’s just a matter of course.

  3. While it’s completely understandable to want a Mel Gibson movie to climax in a fireball — really — all the action movie things they did add are the biggest deviations from the source. In the show, Brett Maverick was just a gambler, played by Garner doing hit rascally coward routine. All trouble he gets himself into, he escapes via his charm and wits.

    It was VERY much a ‘rat pack’ era show with laughs, some danger, gambling, women, and a ‘that’s life’ attitude towards it all (any gains would immediately be lost through some happenstance, to which he would shrug, laugh, “maybe next time…”, and the next episode he’d return to the status quo of being a penniless drifter). So I found it very odd they’d attempt to revive the property in the ’90s, with Mel Gibson (while he can be funny and charming, he’s not the first guy I think of for ‘rascally coward’ roles), and trying to play to the ‘pop country’ audience.

  4. grimgrinningchris

    May 22nd, 2024 at 9:30 am

    Agreeing with both CJ and Maj

    This is a chicken soup movie for me. Is it a classic? Nah. But even with it’s couple faults, it is s damn breezy and likable.

    To Majestyk’s other thought though… I have zero interest in poker in real life but there are many poker-based movies that I love (this one, Rounders, Molly’s Game etc…)

    Kinda like how I have no interest in sales or the stock market (I still, pushing 50, don’t even understand how stock floors work- what are all those little pieces of paper and all of that screaming supposed to accomplish and how??? But salesman and broker movies count as some of my favorites too… from Glengarry Glen Ross to Wall Street to Boiler Room etc…

  5. Yeah, other than the lame Danny Glover part I have an old soft spot for this movie too. Saw it in a theater with my mom. Later bought the laser disc. It’s a fun time and it is the movie that taught me that Jodie Foster is sexy.

  6. Ah, Business Asshole movies. I avoid Business Asshole movies as a rule, but a few have slipped through. MICHAEL CLAYTON. THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS. Does TRADING PLACES count?

  7. Really like this one for what it is – a fun summer movie that does not take itself too seriously. I think Jodie Foster’s performance is really underrated here… almost wish that she could have done more comedies. It is the kind of movie – like Ocean’s Eleven – where you feel that it must have been a fun set to be on for all actors involved.
    The kind of movies they don’t do anymore (nostalgia, nostalgia… having said that, i would say that the Fall Guy has a bit the same ‘spirit’ of being fun and light).

  8. I’m surprised Vern never saw this movie at the time. I found it, with a bag of popcorn, a very good time at the movies. Others in the comments used words I like; breezy, fun, likable. I wonder if Vern’s hesitation to view it as such comes down to the allegations and revelations about a certain star of the movie. And I’m here to say Vern, it’s okay that Jodie is a lesbian. ;)

  9. Back then the only Mel Gibson movies that appealed to me were the MAD MAXes. I was very cynical about certain things I saw as mainstream and popular. Maybe I shouldn’t remind anybody of this but in the early days of the sight I wrote a review of LETHAL WEAPON that was mostly making fun of Mel’s hair and the guitar noodling. I didn’t even bother to see BRAVEHEART until many years after it came out. But I did see CONSPIRACY THEORY and of course PAYBACK. I was slow to catch on I guess.

  10. Republican Cloth Coat

    May 22nd, 2024 at 7:57 pm

    I have never seen the movie MAVERICK. I have, however, seen the tv show MAVERICK. Somewhat odd structure in that the lead alternated between Garner and another guy, but it’s what made Garner a star, being a smarmy guy who won’t use a gun running scams, being scammed, pulling a switcheroo and in the end doing the right thing and making some greenbacks. Garner eventually got sick of recycled scripts and left mad, but the highs are very high for the time.

  11. There was a sequel a couple of years ago called ‘Top Gun – Maverick’ but Mel Gibson was replaced by Tom Cruise and there was no poker tournament, and no horses. It did not make a lot of sense in fact.

  12. I’ve seen some Maverick TV episodes and have been watching Rockford Files on MeTV recently. It makes sense to cast this era of Mel Gibson as James Garner’s successor. In his most famous roles, Garner played a low-rent, down-on-his-luck bullshitter who had sharp wits, could handle himself in a fight, had a secret heart of gold, etc. The guy who played Riggs was a good fit for that.

  13. I have a soft spot for this one. Saw it in theaters when I was a kid and it’s breezy fun. No one’s best work, but a fun cast and James Garner was great. The only episode of the show I’ve seen was included as a special feature on the Unforgiven DVD release. Clint played a villain of the week that Maverick scared off by faking a gunfight at the end of the episode.

  14. I’m somehow shocked that this is Vern’s first viewing and that he does not like it more. But I haven’t watched this movie in a good while. Still, I remember thinking it was absolutely delightful as a kid. It’s very light and breezy, which is something that we don’t get much of these days.

    I’ve long meant to watch the original show because I became a James Garner fan after getting sucked into The Rockford Files. The guy is just one of television’s greatest actors. He has that way about him where you want to kind of hang out with the guy at least once a week for an hour. And, sure, he’s a good enough actor that he can seamlessly move to film. But he has such a genial personality that it works best on television.

    For whatever reason, the only way to watch the original Maverick (at least where I am) is to pay money. I already subscribe to three streaming services. I’m not paying any more money.

    As far as movie card games go, they do get awfully ridiculous and kind of boring. Casino Royale seemed to realize this so they threw in a scene where Bond almost dies and they have to use an emergency defibrillator. It’s one of the reasons why it’s the best Bond movies.

  15. I’ve long meant to watch the original show because I became a James Garner fan after getting sucked into The Rockford Files. The guy is just one of television’s greatest actors.

    Back in the early ’00, Clint Eastwood had a James Garner appreciation that ran on TCM (it seems to have been pulled from youtube, probably because it included a full, three minute monologue from The Americanization of Emily) that was really quite lovely and really did highlight what made him so special. He was a big, handsome guy that specialized in playing roles antithetical to big, handsome guys. He could rip through dialog, but landed his best moments just reacting with his face. Etcetera. And like most of the ‘greats’, he made it look like he wasn’t doing anything at all.

    Maverick the show, is like most television. It starts off really sharp (If I recall, Budd Boetticher even directs a good chunk of the first season), but once the groundwork is laid, cheaper writers are brought in, and it becomes lazy. Garner boats after the third season (I think), and then Jack Kelly and Roger Moore take over (as Bart and Beau Maverick respectively) and the show gets much more generic as a whole.

  16. I will always speak up for Donner and Garner, but this really is nobody’s best work. It’s fine, but not equal to the sum of it’s parts is absolutely right. Not to point fingers, but I kinda think that Goldman’s screenplay and Gibson’s persona are at odds with Donner’s direction. Goldman and Gibson are full of smart-alec knowing while Donner’s conception of comedy – as we have noted before – is broad and slapstick. That clash worked well, at least for me, in SCROOGED, but not so much here.

    I think Donner wanted Paul Newman for Garner’s part, but Newman said no. I think that’s for the best, as Garner is good, and having Newman in a Goldman-scripted comedy western would only have drawn the attention of the audience to what it’s not: it’s no BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.

  17. Graham Greene is just about the best thing in this movie. A con movie set in the Old West seems like a no-brainer, but the compounding reveals of who’s in on the grand scheme of things get exhausting after a time. The fact that Garner already trades on his Maverick persona in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER also kind of diminished my enjoyment of this movie.

  18. I thought that the TV show MAVERICK was something every American had grown up with, and hoped that I finally would get an answer to the question: Isn’t there an episode with James Garner from the late 70s or early 80s who have pretty much the same storyline and ending on a riverboat as this movie?

    All through MAVERICK we’re all supposed to know – wink, wink – who James Garner is supposed to be. But what he’s really doing is playing Wyatt Earp for a third time.

    Jodie Foster, contrary to what the whole world believes, said afterwards that Mel Gibson is the nicest person she ever worked with. Him and Chow Yun-Fat. And they do have terrific chemistry here. Mel and Jodie, that is. Not Mel and Yun-Fat.

    Yes, Vern, Hal Ketchum was a country singer. One of the best.

  19. I miss this kind of breezy Hollywood “blockbuster.” Seems weird to call it that but back then it was…full of stars and with a bid budget but not necessarily an action movie. Action aside, The Fall Guy is sort of a callback to that kind of thing.

    Plus I LOVE poker movies. Not great it it myself but did work for people who were ad if you think luck is what gets them by, no way. You don’t make the kinds of money and win as much as they do by luck. It is sort of weird to me with people asking why anyone would want to film scenes with guys sitting around playing poker instead of punching…I guess for the same reason 12 Angry Men is good even though it’s just a bunch of shlubs talking in a room, or why Women Talking was suburb. Because in the end it’s more about human drama and interactions. And yeah usually Hollywood juices it up with a bunch of magical hands but that’s just part of the bullshit factory like all movies gotta do.

  20. I don’t remember the “ridiculous poker hands” complaint when it ended with a Scott Adkins in a fat suit fight scene.

  21. I realize fictional movies are always fiction. I’m just saying that for me personally, the dramatic question of “will he happen to have the best hand?” is harder to suspend disbelief on and feel invested in than most of the other formulas that exist, and some guys nervously looking at their cards for a while before putting them down on the table generally isn’t as visually enthralling as a climactic fight or stunt or dance off that you also know the outcome of. If you’re into poker of course it’s gonna be more interesting, but if it was a big finale about a coin toss game maybe you’d feel similar.

  22. I guess I look to see if there’s tension in the scene.

    I always find the bar scene in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST more favorable to the one in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS because at the end of the day, you already know what Tarantino is going to do, whereas you feel the Bronson/Robards standoff could go any way, even if you’ve already seen it.

  23. Fictional movies are always fictional? But, what about the ones that say “Based on a true story” at the beginning?

  24. I thought No Country For Old Men pulled off having a coin toss game for a big finale really well.

  25. I got actually invested in the ending of DODGEBALL of all things…a goofy comedy but they really stacked the shit out of the game scenes, and it was shocking that I ended up being entertained by the storytelling of the games which I had assumed would be the boring parts. It’s all about construction, and if the movie is focusing on the psychology of the characters, not just looking at their cards, then it works.

    Draft Day is another. Do I REALLY care about how many millions this asshole has to work with to get the draft dude on his team so they can make some billions? I’da thought no I do not…but that movie made it work because of the reveals, reversals and character dynamics.

    This is also why I love legal movies, and not the thrillers like The Firm where the big climax is a chase and fight. The Rainmaker, Inherit the Wind, A Few Good Men, where the climax is just Jack yelling in anger. People can like what they like obviously and no one has the same taste, but to me good drama is good drama and there are definitely bad poker movies too.

    emteem, when they say “based on a true story” they usually make too much up, which is why you need Fargo because it says it IS a true story, and stuck to the straight facts only.

  26. Kaplan, that’s true, that is a good one…I will give the caveat though, that it gets more tension because we know she’s gunna get her brais blown out if it comes out the wrong way, so it has an inherent danger that a sports or poker or legal movie won’t have.

  27. Dreadguacamole

    May 25th, 2024 at 1:40 pm

    I loved MISSISSIPPI GRIND and really got invested into whether some people had better cards than others – but as Muh says, it’s all about the drama around it (I don’t get either the rules or the appeal of card games).

  28. I think “not their best work” is a bit of an unfair standard to hold a movie to. Is True Lies shit because it’s not Aliens? Is The 13th Warrior crap because it’s not Die Hard? Just about everyone involved in this movie is immensely talented and if they’re not at the top of their game, they’re at least performing at the high level of their expectations, in some cases exceeding them.

    I’d say it’s a good hangout movie and I’d compare it favorably to The Fall Guy, which I liked, but it isn’t as much a real movie as this, isn’t as adult as this (could you imagine a 43-year-old Mel Gibson saying he’s going to keep things “super profesh” or that he has a “major crush” on someone?), and has a lot more flop sweat than this, which is content to do its own thing without being aggressively liked every second of its runtime.

    If you like stuntmen more than cowboys, fair enough, but I don’t think you can objectively fault this movie’s execution. It is doing what it sets out to do.

  29. Franchise Fred

    May 27th, 2024 at 6:58 am

    Very good point, Kaplan. Not everything has to be the best. As long as it’s also good it’s worth watching.

  30. I loved MISSISSIPPI GRIND and really got invested into whether some people had better cards than others

    This right here was a puzzling motion picture.
    Not so much that it’s a remake/update/whatever of California Split, as that’s done all the time. But it somehow doesn’t even give Joseph Walsh a story credit. I can see something being worked out with Walsh privately, but I was always under the impression the WGA frowned upon such things.

  31. grimgrinningchris

    June 3rd, 2024 at 5:55 am

    Graham Greene recorded a rap album. It’s about as good as Christopher Lee’s metal album.

  32. So it’s awesome?

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