Kenny Rogers attempts a stretch from his series of “Gambler” TV pix, but don’t expect to see him playing an insurance agent or used-car salesman. He’s back on the range as a grizzled cowboy, with the novelty being that bounty hunter Quinton Leech isn’t 100% good guy. Director Rod Hardy and DP David Connell seek to mine John Ford/Sergio Leone territory, with mixed results.
Country singer Travis Tritt, fellow member of exec producer Ken Kragen’s management stable, landed the part of Ben Tabor, young farmer forced by circumstances into Leech’s life. Another country singer, Naomi Judd, appears briefly as a saloon proprietor whom Leech patronizes for an occasional — this may be metaphoric — back rub.
Story begins as Leech arrives in town on the same day Tabor is getting married, and a gang of baddies led by Brion James and Jervis Walker hits the local bank. Gang escapes with Tabor’s bride (Laura Harring) in tow, and the heroes take off, at first separately, in pursuit: Leech for the bounty, Tabor to preserve the virtue of the little woman.
Story is lots of ridin’ and talkin’, broken by occasional violence that’s fairly gory by TV standards. Most of the talking is laconic enough to accommodate the principals’ somewhat limited thespic talent. Fortunately, most riding is through beautiful Texas desert.
Stacy Keach pops up at the end, dressed and made up to look like Waylon Jennings, for a juicy scene that ties things up while determining that Rogers won’t be appearing in any sequels.
Pic looks good, and action scenes are nicely staged. Rogers sings “Wanderin’ Man,” co-written by another former New Christy Minstrel, Kim Carnes, over the end titles.
Contrary to network publicity, “Rio Diablo” is not Judd’s acting debut: Previous credits include “More American Graffiti” and “Living Proof.”