As the latest in what has been an escalating parade of television show-to-movie transitions, "Maverick" strikes boldly into the middle-ground of how these films should be presented. With dubious casting (Mel Gibson would not have been my first choice) and the familiar "who's getting conned?" premise presented with more flair in the semi-recent "Diggstown", the film relies heavily on its ability to inspire laughter, which is really its saving grace.
Bret Maverick (Gibson) needs $25,000 to enter a poker tournament which could net him a cool half million. Just $3,000 short of his entrance fee, he attempts to make up the rest by playing in towns on the way to the tournament. In one of these towns he meets the beautiful Mrs. Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), whom Bret almost immediately recognizes to be someone like himself: namely charming, talented, and not completely scrupulous. The two of them end up sharing a stagecoach with lawman Zane Cooper (James Garner) as all three are bound for the same destination.
Along the way they contend with a coachman who drops dead while at the reins, a group of outlaws who have robbed some settlers of their mission fund, and a group of presumably hostile American Indians. Upon finally arriving at the high stakes game, it is revealed than Coop is there to make sure it runs fairly. The competition starts out with 20 gamblers whose ranks dwindle to 4 for the last round of the tournament. Annabelle and Bret make it to this round along with the Commodore (James Coburn) who has staged the game on his steamboat and a Spaniard named Angel (Alfred Molina) who has had it in for Maverick even since he was conned by the infamous gambler.
"Maverick" reunites director Richard Donner with his "Lethal Weapon" star. The mix of action and humor in this Wild West film is very similar to the that found in the popular buddy-cop series. Thankfully, the film doesn't hinge on its somewhat stock plot but rather uses it as a foundation upon which to build funny moments. Gibson, Foster and Garner play off of each other pretty well in this respect. The film is less enjoyable when they deal with outsiders.
Taken as a lightweight action-comedy, "Maverick" should do well in carving out a summertime niche. Just don't go in expecting too much or you're liable to be disappointed.