CINEMA: Maverick Is Painless, the Flintstones Is Fun

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Neither of the two brand-new, big-budget, TV-derived summer movies will do you any harm, and one actually succeeds pretty well. The best (and worst) you can say about Maverick is that it does the job -- it allows you to spend a perfectly agreeable evening without making you feel completely stupid or totally conned. The film offers us Mel Gibson as a new Bret Maverick, the Western gambler, as well as the old TV Maverick, James Garner, now playing a wry frontier sheriff. These two guys can make you smile contentedly even when the script is wandering and they're just sort of standing around waiting for its next good part to develop. Jodie Foster has to work harder as a gambling lady who exists mostly to bicker with Bret, but she's game.

The story is nothing much: Maverick trying to round up the money to enter a high-stakes poker game before it starts. Writer William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and director Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon series) both seem to understand that the TV Maverick offered tinkly satirical relief from the other Western programs of the day, which took themselves so seriously. If the filmmakers lose the show's sharpness by converting it to the large screen with broad gestures, they can live with it. Doubtless all the rest of us can too.

The Flintstones fares better than Maverick. In Bedrock the finest restaurant is the Cavern on the Green. Down at the drive-in they're playing Tar Wars. People talk about spending a relaxing week in Rocapulco. Puns may be the lowest form of humor, but in this movie such wordplay is the only possible accompaniment for the pictureplay that runs throughout this merry story of "a modern Stone Age fam-il-ee": newspapers carved in stone; cars powered by feet; prehistoric creatures employed as primitive, parodic versions of contemporary labor-saving devices (dinosaurs are adapted to be lawn mowers, garbage disposals, even a bowling-alley pinsetter). Yes, it's business as it usually was on the old animated TV show. But nothing has been lost -- or worse, inflated out of proportion -- in translating the program to the big screen in a live-action version whose story, believe it or not, takes up white-collar crime, technology-induced unemployment and even the homeless.

John Goodman and Elizabeth Perkins as the eponymous heads of household, Rick Moranis and Rosie O'Donnell as the Rubbles, and Elizabeth Taylor, who plays Fred's insulting, overbearing mother-in-law, all tread a nice, comically persuasive line between caricature and naturalism under Brian Levant's direction. And while more than 30 writers worked on the screenplay and untold numbers labored to re-create the ambiance and effects that the animators once tossed off with a few squiggles of their pencils, The Flintstones doesn't feel overcalculated, over-produced or overthought. Nor, however, is it aimed solely at "the young and the thumbless" (to borrow the name of Bedrock's favorite soap opera). Once again, prehistory has been good to the film's producer, billed here as Steven Spielrock.