Kenny Rogers seems pretty much over the hill as a country-music star, and you wouldn’t expect the third sequel to his mediocre 1980 TV movie The Gambler to yield much pleasure. But for baby-boomers tuning in on a whim, The Gambler Returns might yield a surprising amount of enjoyably junky, nostalgic charm.
Rogers once again portrays Brady Hawkes, a legendary gambler with a self-deprecating streak. This four-hour mini-series has an extremely vague, loosely structured plot about Hawkes journeying to enter a high-stakes poker game, bankrolled by a group of brothel owners led by Burgundy Jones, who is played with furrowed-brow earnestness by Reba McEntire, a much hotter country-music star than Rogers.
But plot is irrelevant here. The fun in watching The Gambler Returns is in seeing the cameo appearances of characters from a slew of ’50s and ’60s TV Westerns, including Gene Barry as Bat Masterson, Clint Walker’s Cheyenne Bodie, Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain (The Rifleman), and Hugh O’Brien’s Wyatt Earp. It’s as if NBC is offering a homage to some of the cheerfully cheesy Warner Bros.-produced Westerns that ABC ran three decades ago. All that’s missing is squinty-eyed Jack Elam, who seemed to be a villain on every one of those shows at one time or another.
Even though it’s much too long — when it comes to making an expansive Western, director Dick Lowry, who also oversaw the previous three Gambler movies, sure ain’t no John Ford — The Gambler is easygoing amusement. And the second night’s installment, with Mickey Rooney going wild as a Western-movie director at the dawn of the film industry, is pretty darn funny. B