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RICHARD DONNER DIRECTS MEL GIBSON AS MAVERICK

1994 Grade: B–
When Johnny Depp played THE LONE RANGER, it was basically his endearingly ragged PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN Captain Jack Sparrow in another form. Robert Downey Jr’s smart aleck Sherlock Holmes could very well be IRON MAN Tony Stark roaming through the fog-shrouded Baker Street. And that concept of a popular actor bringing their beloved niche persona from one vehicle to another wasn’t entirely new...

In the course of the 1990’s when Mel Gibson reigned supreme, his LETHAL WEAPON director Richard Donner decided to reboot an old TV series, a concept that, in itself, hadn't snowballed like it would a few years later. And taking over James Garner’s Bret Maverick was Mel himself, acting just as silly and crazy-brave as Detective Riggs, only he’s not suicidal from the onset: the ironic fact we begin with Maverick about to hang himself, well, it wasn't his choice.

Rest in Pace Geoffrey Lewis
Lead villain Alfred Molina has everything against the roguish gambler, and when we cut back days earlier, Maverick is looking forward to and trying to save up for a half million dollar gambling tournament, serving as a plot-horizon throughout the various cons, most of which are completely farfetched and distractingly banal. Especially one concerning Native American actor Graham Greene, fresh from an Oscar nom in DANCES WITH WOLVES, turning in one of the worst performances ever filmed: pretending to be the typical “racist Indian stereotype” from the old black & white movies, he's not funny enough for a parody or genuine enough to be a worthy sidekick. 

The Original
But we’re skipping past Maverick’s two main co-stars: first his ingénue, a resilient tart stealing from every man she meets. Herein, Jodie Foster is the most miscast on board (first choice Meg Ryan would have worked better). The edgy character-actress hasn’t much of a mainstream leading lady persona. Thankfully our wily hero prefers to roam alone, and spends most of the time avoiding her and lawman Marshal Zane Cooper, where the original 50's era MAVERICK James Garner has a piece of the action… somewhat.

Although Garner really sinks his teeth into the only sequence that matters: The river boat tournament led by James Coburn’s Commodore Duvall, harboring a location that's a plush version of the HIGH NOON main street with a neat surge of twists and tricks making up for the banality of the road adventure leading to what (and where) the entire ride is about. And with cameos by character-actors Dub Taylor, Denver Pyle, Paul L. Smith, the recently departed Geoffrey Lewis, Donner’s former Lois Lane, Margot Kidder and a handful of others including a surprise Danny Glover punchline-appearance, MAVERICK not only caters to the built-in fan-base of the original series, but that cop movie franchise where Mel Gibson was able to steal a show he already had in the bag.
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