A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie's sole purpose is to be entertaining. It's filled with old-time Western action, but it's played for fun here. There are lots of fistfights, shootings, steely-eyed bad guys, coiled hissing snakes, and even a literal "cliffhanger" (one character hangs over a steep gorge for what seems like forever). Occasionally someone dies, but the object here is to keep real violence to a minimum and overstate the battles for humorous effect. There are sexual innuendos, some passionate kissing, a bare chest (male) and a bare shoulder (female), and some cigar smoking. The Native Americans wear war paint, howl, and shake their fists at the sky, but it's delivered to parody the stereotypes that show up in other Westerns.
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What's the story?
Bret Maverick, a very popular television character from the 1950s and 1960s, is brought to life again by Mel Gibson in this comic adventure made decades later. Maverick is a consummate gambler, a world-class romantic hero, and a natural born master of the one-liner. He's on his way to a high-stakes poker tournament where he hopes to win the big money and cement his reputation as the best poker player on the continent. Still $3000 short of the entrance fee, he's hoping to collect some outstanding debts and enjoy the journey. Instead, he encounters two rivals for the poker title (including the elegant and unscrupulous Annabelle Bransford, played by Jodie Foster), a mysterious lawman (James Garner, who was the original TV Maverick), and various baddies (including Alfred Molina and James Coburn) who seem hell-bent on his not finishing the trip. After a series of hair-raising adventures and near-death experiences, Maverick arrives on the paddle-steamer where the tournament is to be held, only to be met by even more danger and duplicity.
Is it any good?
An amusing script by William Goldman, slick direction, and charming (if not to be taken seriously) performances by the principals provide some fun, thrills, and clever plot twists. The filmmakers pay homage to the Western genre by using a number of classic Western character actors to good advantage in some of the smaller roles. And the scenes with Graham Greene and his band of Native American warriors are the funniest and most thought-provoking. At over two hours, however, there aren't quite enough laughs, inspired adventures, or mind-bending story elements to put it in a class with the great caper films.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this movie is a different type of Western. What are some of the things that show us that this isn't an actual portrayal of the Old West, but a humorous and fond look backwards?
What does the movie say about appearance versus reality? Which people pretend to be one thing but are really something else? Which people have surprising secrets?
What do you think the filmmakers are hoping you'll understand about movie stereotyping?
- In theaters: May 20, 1994
- On DVD or streaming: June 1, 2004
- Cast: James Garner, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson
- Director: Richard Donner
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild sensuality, language, and some western action
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.