Western Humor of 'Maverick' Is Aces: No Bluffing Needed

Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' Life & Style section.

In "Maverick," a self-deprecating dandy and flimflam man (Mel Gibson) who needs $25,000 to enter the "poker game of the century" in St. Louis, joins up with an old lawman (James Garner) and a flirtatious female gambler (Jodie Foster)--both equally extroverted cons. (Rated PG)


You know what happens when, like, your parents take you to a movie insisting you'll like it because they loved it when it was, you know, a TV show, light years before you were even born. They even try to encourage you by saying there will be lots of country Western music.

You think: Bor-ring.

You go, but you shift in your seat. You get up and down. You even feign sleep to make your point.

Then maybe you get a surprise.

"It was a little more than I expected," said Matthew Barros, 12, whose parents had planned this movie excursion for six weeks. "I thought it was pretty good actually. There wasn't really that much country music."

Most kids said they liked this witty take on the Old West, even if the comedy was similar to the moss-covered TV show, which ran from 1957-62.

The boys liked the fancy gunslinging, or as 9-year-old Joseph Roberts put it, "the shooting part."

Both genders liked the humor.

Jennifer Harris, 15, said she liked Graham Greene ("Dances With Wolves"), who plays Maverick's friend, a thoroughly modern Native American who exploits his position as a tourist attraction for Russian adventurers. He elicited the most laughs from the audience when he tried to out-con Maverick by pretending to steal his money.

"I got your money right here," he says. "I just wanted to see how you'd react."

Other kids enjoyed the intricate cons and reverse cons.

In the '90s movie version, we also get a new vision of the Old West: aerial panoramas and all the yellow dust and dirt we never saw on TV.

But not everyone was impressed.

"It was kind of corny," said Barret Bruchhauser, 14.

"I didn't really get the point of the movie," said Louise Majera, also 14.

Five-year-old Ashley Louise Harris also gave it a thumbs down, saying, "Some of it I got tired on and falled asleep."

But parents can relax: The movie's sex and violence are alluded to more than shown, and the PG rating is fair.

Now that parents can easily find family movies to go to, the problem is that most of them are weak comedies, seemingly designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. But bolstered by a strong and witty script (by William Goldman, who wrote "The Princess Bride" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), "Maverick" not only elicited laughs but also featured suspense and plot twists that genuinely surprised the kids.

Matthew said his favorite scene was near the end, when the suspense focused on the final card in the final round of the high-stakes poker game.

"It could have happened either way," he said.

He also thought it was interesting to know that the lawman was played by James Garner, who starred as the original Maverick.

Which kids would like this movie?

"Kids 10 through 25," Matthew suggested. "Once you get older, the movies get a little more predictable. The younger ones, maybe they couldn't understand it. I just thought the whole movie was unpredictable. I thought it was good overall."

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