Maverick is an Academy Award nominated 1994 comedy Western movie, based on the 1950s television series Maverick, created by Roy Huggins. The film was directed by Richard Donner from a screenplay by William Goldman and features Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
The story, set in the American Old West, is a first-person account by a wisecracking gambler Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson), of his misadventures on the way to a major five-card draw poker tournament. Besides wanting to win the poker championship for the money, he also wants to prove, once and for all, that he is "the best". However, complications keep getting in the way.
Maverick rides into the fictional town of Crystal River intending to collect money owed to him, as he is $3,000 short of the poker tournament entry fee of $25,000. His efforts to make up this $3,000 provide some plot motivation, as well as diversions caused by, and in the company of, three people he encounters at Crystal River: an antagonist named Angel (Alfred Molina), a young con-artist calling herself Mrs Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), and legendary lawman Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner, who played Bret Maverick in the original TV series). The first two are also rival poker players.
Maverick, Bransford and Cooper share a stagecoach (the driver of which dies at the reins at full gallop), agree to help a wagon train of migrant evangelist settlers who have been waylaid by ruffians (for a fee which Maverick in the end is too big-hearted to accept) and are headed-off by a troop of Indians led by Joseph (Graham Greene). Unknown to his companions, Joseph and Maverick are good friends, and Maverick allows himself to be "captured." Joseph is another one of his unreliable debtors, and in and around his tribal grounds they collaborate on a scheme to swindle a Russian Grand Duke.
During this time, Angel has received a mysterious telegram ordering him to not allow Maverick to reach the poker game, and has also learned that Maverick had conned him in Crystal River. These scenes are some of the very few which do not involve Maverick directly. Angel catches up with Maverick after he has left Joseph's tribe, beats him up and attempts to hang him. Despite being tied to both a tree and to his horse, Maverick escapes and reaches the poker game, which is taking place on a paddle steamer. Bransford and Angel have also reached the game, and Cooper has engaged to oversee its security. Learning that Bransford is still short several thousand dollars of the entry fee, Maverick finds the Grand Duke on board and cons him out of the needed amount so she can get in the game.
After preliminary rounds, the four finalists are Maverick, Bransford, Angel, and Commodore Devol (James Coburn), the boat's owner and the tournament organizer. Maverick almost fails to reach the final table by the 5:00am deadline, having had his stateroom door chained (by an unknown person) after a short tryst with Bransford. The game proceeds, with Bransford the first eliminated, and shortly thereafter a "fixed" hand is dealt to the three remaining players. The Commodore is given four 8s and Angel is given a low straight flush, whilst Maverick has the 10, Jack, Queen and King of Spades. The Commodore and Angel each bet "all in" (implying that Maverick is the chip leader at this stage). Maverick observes the dealer bottom-dealing to the others, protests the conduct of the hand, and eventually accepts one card dealt by Angel and calls the bets without checking the card. It turns out to be the Ace of Spades, giving Maverick an unbeatable royal flush and the championship. An enraged Angel draws his gun, but he and his stooges in the audience are shot down in rapid succession by Cooper and Maverick (drawing one of Cooper's guns).
Three plot twists follow Maverick's win. Firstly, Cooper steals the $500,000 prize money instead of presenting it to Maverick. Secondly, it is revealed that the Commodore and Cooper were secretly in cahoots on the theft and that Angel had actually been working for the Commodore. Thirdly, Maverick ambushes the two around a campfire and steals back the money, leaving them a single (unloaded) gun to settle their affairs. Cooper beats up the Commodore and angrily vows to wreak bloody vengeance on Maverick, even if it means hunting him to the ends of the earth.
Later, Maverick is relaxing in a bath-house when Cooper finds him, and drops the facade to reveal (to the audience) that he is in fact Maverick's father. [James Garner repeatedly noted in subsequent interviews, long after the movie had finished its theatrical run, that he believes that he was playing the same character that he portrayed in the original television series and that Mel Gibson's Bret Maverick was the television series Bret Maverick's son. This remains ambiguous in the movie itself, however, and a case could be made that Garner was actually playing Bret's father Beau Maverick, a character that Garner played in a single episode of the original series entitled "Pappy."] It is also revealed that the real conspiracy was between the two of them. Suddenly, however, Bransford enters the bath-house and robs Cooper and Maverick (whose relationship she had easily surmised). However, she only gets away with half of the money she had expected, as Maverick had hidden the rest in his boots. Maverick smiles and comments that it will be a lot of fun getting the rest of the money back from her.
There are appearances through the film as many familiar faces from Westerns of the past and Country Western music, particularly in the final riverboat poker tournament scenes. These include (in no particular order):
In addition to these stars, actor Danny Glover (Gibson's co-star in the Lethal Weapon franchise of films) appears as the lead bank robber. He and Maverick (Gibson) share a scene where they look as if they knew each other, but then shake it off. As Glover makes his escape with the money, he mutters "I'm too old for this shit.", his character's catch phrase in all four Lethal Weapon films. In addition, a strain of the main theme from Lethal Weapon plays in the score when Glover is revealed.