Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, James Garner, Alfred Molina, James Coburn, Graham Greene
Rated PG for Mild Sensuality, Language and Some Western Action
In comedy, timing is everything. Especially when it's all about wordplay and slapstick. A comedy like this is like walking on a tightrope: one element out of place and it all falls apart. When it works, you get something like "Burke and Hare," a comedy that achieves an almost manic energy. When it doesn't, you end up with "Maverick." It's not a terrible movie by any means, but you get the distinct impression that it's not able to pull all the materials together correctly.
Bret Maverick (Gibson) is a quick-witted gambler looking to enter a half-million, winner-takes-all poker tournament. Unfortunately, the game is a few days away and he's a few grand short. So he intends to make that money any way he can, whether it be humiliating an opponent played by Alfred Molina or calling up a debt from a surprisingly modern Indian played by Graham Greene. This all depends, of course, whether he can keep it out of the delicate hands of Annabelle Bransford (Foster), a beautiful pickpocket posing as a Southern belle. Together with a lawman named Coop (Garner), they strike out for St. Louis and hope to make it rich.
It's not particularly interesting, or especially clever. But for a light-hearted romp that knows its shortcomings, that's okay if the ingredients are in place. But the film struggles to achieve that magic that screwball adventure like this needs. The jokes need to come rapid-fire with razor sharp timing. "Maverick" only reaches about the halfway point.
At least it has a good cast, and I got the sense that they were having a lot more fun than I was. Mel Gibson can pull off this type of charming rascal in his sleep, but he's having a ball. His good friend Jodie Foster, who rarely does comedy, sparkles with mischief. James Garner may seem like too much of a sad sack to be in something this zany, but his laid back approach fits right in with his deadpan character. Alfred Molina and the always interesting James Coburn provide solid support, but some of the most amusing material comes from Graham Greene, who along with Gibson has a lot of fun sending up Indian stereotypes. With better handling, they would have been uproarious. As is, they're just amusing.
The film was directed by Richard Donner, who made the first two "Superman" movies with Christopher Reeve (the latter of which was taken out of his hands midway through production and given to another director) and the "Lethal Weapon" franchise. But comedy doesn't appear to be his forte. He struggles to gain the necessary comic energy to make this movie really work. It tries to do for westerns that "Kick-Ass," "Starship Troopers," and "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" did for their respective genres: make a legitimate entry while making fun of their common conventions. It doesn't quite get there, but the end result isn't as painful as it could have been.