Thursday, 20 May 2021
Place Your Brets
USA 1994 Directed by Richard Donner
Warner Brothers Blu Ray Zone B
Warning: This review contains a big
spoiler about a character from the outset.
Maverick was a big budget reboot, by director Richard Donner and actor Mel Gibson (the director/actor team of Lethal Weapon fame) of the classic James Garner small screen character of Bret Maverick, who had been in many iterations of the show (you can read my reviews of the various variants of Maverick here). And it’s kind of open to interpretation to just who Gibson is playing in this one as he’s called Bret Maverick and, just like Garner used to, provides a voice over narrative as he goes along on his adventure... although I could have honestly done without the added swearing here because it didn’t seem quite right sitting in the Maverick universe but, hey ho, I guess the writers maybe imagined it was edgy or something.
The thing is, though, James Garner also plays a major role in the movie, as a Marshall called Zane Cooper, which I’m assuming is an homage to the two Western writers Zane Grey and James Fenimore Cooper. However, at the end of the film he is revealed to also be a Maverick, running an elaborate con with his son, Bret. Now, you can either take that as he’s playing Pappy (as he did once in the original show where he played both father and son in one episode) and Gibson is the original Bret or, like me, despite the lack of timing continuity between pretty much every iteration of the show in various forms, you can interpret it as he’s still playing Bret Maverick and also called his son the same name. Either way, this is a fairly affectionate nod to the original show (asides from the swearing) and is a nice addition to the original stories.
It has a stellar cast such as Jodie Foster as the main romantic lead (another con woman and this is not unusual for what would have been an episode of Maverick), Alfred Molina as a villain and James Coburn in another prominent role in the last third of the movie. There are also a lot of old time cowboy show (and Maverick show) cameo appearances by various actors such as Leo Gordon (Big Mike in the original show and also one of the original series' writers) and Doug McLure, not to mention lots of uncredited cameos too, including Garner’s brother turning up once again, plus some country and western singers too, for some reason.
One cameo moment is wonderful when Danny Glover, Gibson’s co-star from the Lethal Weapon movies, comes face to face with Gibson while robbing a bank... and the music suddenly goes into a dead-on parody of Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton’s score for the Lethal Weapon films. That’s very nicely done.
Another great uncredited cameo, larger but still short, is the inclusion of a character played by Margot Kidder. Of course, Kidder also played James Garner’s regular love interest in his post-Maverick TV show Nichols (which I reviewed here) and it’s nice to see the two sharing the screen together again (come to think of it, she also worked for this particular director in her most famous role as Lois Lane in Superman The Movie and its sequels).
And, getting back to the musical cameos... Randy Newman’s score for the film incorporates a heroic melody line for Gibson’s Bret character that is almost, but not quite, an instrumental version of the shows original theme and song. It’s like he’s been asked to do it straight but delete one note and change two others and I can’t quite understand why because, well, Warners would surely have owned the rights to the music from the original show. Maybe, going with the idea that this was actually the original Bret Maverick’s son, the composer decided to make it a variant, possibly intending to bring the full version of Garner’s theme back later for... the big reveal. That doesn’t happen but, it’s quite close and fans of the old show will certainly hear the old theme in it when Gibson does anything heroic here.
And it’s a nice film with some interesting scenes, nice action and a real suspenseful finish to the big poker game near the end of the movie. It’s also very humorous, in exactly the way the original show was although, certainly Gibson’s young Bret is more willing to pull his guns out, it seems, than the original character was. There’s a big problem with the film though... and I’m not just talking about the waterwheel on the ferry changing speeds between long shot and close up in one scene either...
I’m sure the various plot twists... Jodie Foster actually after Maverick’s money whenever she can thieve it, the James Garner reveal, the Indian who turns out to be an old pal of Bret... would have seemed fresh or at least unpredictable to the younger segment of the audience who were unfamiliar with any of the various versions of the show over the years. Old hands at Bret’s game though, through Garner’s always pitch perfect and immensely entertaining portrayal, will see a lot of the reveals coming way before they happen because they’ve become almost cliché by this point in the franchise. So, yeah, I think this movie appeals to two different audiences but, luckily, it holds it own quite well and at least meets the expectations of an older and more familiar crowd.
Maverick, the movie version, is a real hoot, to be sure and definitely one to watch. It doesn’t come close, it has to be said, to many of the earlier versions of the character but, that’s okay, Gibson does well in the part, as does Foster and they’re both helped out tremendously, in my opinion, by the presence of James Garner returning, effectively, to his roots here. A lovely, romantic Western flavoured with just a favourable dash of its powerful legacy of ingredients. One to watch.