Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, James Garner, Graham Greene, Alfred Molina|
Many of us oldsters grew up watching James Garner as Bret Maverick. Here’s another film remake of an old TV series, using one of the original stars (Garner) in a different role; but unlike in most cases, the former star’s new role here is substantial rather than just a cameo.
The plot is campy and has quite a few holes, but it’s all tongue-in-cheek anyhow. Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) has to get to a half-million-dollar-purse poker tournament, and needs to raise another $3000 for the entry fee. Along the way, he has misadventures with lawman Zane Cooper (Garner), fellow-gambler Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and many other strange characters. There’s so much cheating, conning, double-crossing and false identity that this film seems more like a remake of “The Sting”; the serious fan will have to watch it a second time to rethink and unravel what really happened. But of course the “good guys” (relatively speaking) come out on top. Someone worked hard to make this film “just so.” It has something of the old Maverick dry humor; there are old-fashioned stunts like stopping a runaway stagecoach by jumping onto the horses; and not only does the score recall the original Maverick theme, some lyrics from the original theme (such as “Riverboat, ring your bell; fare thee well, Annabelle”) have apparently been used to help write the script. For fans of ’50s Westerns or of today’s country music, there’ll be a lot of familiar faces (many of them uncredited) in the cast.
On the negative side: The level of profanity is very high for a PG rating. There’s some non-lethal gunfighting in the tradition of the old show, but there’s also a gunfight where people are killed. Religious people (the survivors of a wagon train attack) are portrayed as somewhat out of touch with reality. “Amazing Grace” is sung over the grave of a man who had no identifying papers except a list of whorehouses. Maverick engages in surface repentance (“get me out of this, Lord, and I’ll change whatever you want me to change”) when he’s about to be hanged; soon afterwards, he has implied casual sex with Annabelle (and since they’ve routinely deceived each other in the past, he uses one hand to hide his valuables during foreplay so she can’t steal them). When Maverick meets a bank robber played by Danny Glover, the two exchange funny looks; this is intended to get laughs from those who know Gibson and Glover as partners in the “Lethal Weapon” films, and it made me think of reincarnation even though the time frame is backwards. Maverick and his Indian pal Joseph (Graham Greene, “Dances With Wolves”) both make jokes about the whites stealing the Indians’ land; although the jokes are funny in their context, I’m not sure that that subject should ever be joked about. (I admit that Greene’s imitation of Curly Howard during a fake war whoop is hilarious.)
I don’t know if everyone feels this way, but I find some kinds of offensive content more annoying in a comedy than in a serious film. When I rent a comedy I want to just relax, drop my guard and enjoy myself. But as long as Hollywood stays on its present course, that’s pretty near impossible for a Christian to do. There’s good comedy material in this film, but it comes with a price tag.