Filmed on location in Texas by Kenny Rogers Prods., World Intl. Net and RHI Entertainment Inc. Executive producers, Ken Kragen, Larry Levinson; producer, Kelly Junkermann; director, Jack Bender; writers, Frank Q. Dobbs, Caleb Pirtle II; story, Dobbs, Junkermann, Dave Cass, suggested by song “The Gambler” by Don Schlitz; based on characters created by Jim Byrnes, Gort Casady; Back for a fifth cycle, loaded down with cliches from early oaters and pulp Western tales, Kenny Rogers settles into the role of Brady Hawkes, the title character. Borrowing from legend and fable, Western takeoff “Gambler V” weighs in too heavy, but Hawkes always wins against the ratings odds.
Hawkes’ teenage son, Jeremiah (Kris Kamm), whom Hawkes hasn’t seen in years, has ankled school and hooked up with bank robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Scott Paulin, Brett Cullen) and their wild bunch. The gang sits for a group photo; they should’ve taken out ads.
The loose story involves Hawkes tracking Jeremiah to a showdown in Bolivia. His trek sometimes proves embarrassing. Hawkes consorts with a former romance, fancy-house madam Fanny (Loni Anderson), gets in a brawl during a concert by his onetime amour Lillie Langtry (Dixie Carter) and hands out aphorisms like pouring cement.
Vidpic switches between the adventures of Hawkes (observing bear wrestling, a hanging, playing poker) and those of Butch, Sundance and Etta Place, Sundance’s lover (Mariska Hargitay, beauteous daughter of Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay) as they go about ruining the lives of hundreds of people. As Etta loyally explains, “It’s not that they’re bad men, it’s that they never grew up!”
Director Jack Bender strives to bring a light touch to the weighty project, but you can feel the effort. Acting’s mostly perfunctory. Bruce Boxleitner’s in briefly near the beginning. Paulin and Cullen give reasonable interps as the outlaws.
Some of the cameos are surprisingly sharp: Martin Kove as Black Jack, subject of a hanging; Geoffrey Lewis, a traveling hangman; Wayne Dehart, a madman in a prison cell; Ned Vaughn as a nasty, redheaded Pinkerton man; and, especially, Jack Lilley as Frisco, a Hawkes crony who appears early on, never to return.
Bender also sets a good pace for the silly happenings, and Rogers’ presence, if not his acting, form a base for the ragged adventure. Edward Pei’s camera brightly catches the action, William B. Stich’s editing is assured, Colby Bart’s costumes are impressive, and production designer Jerry Wanek puts on a splashy show.
The Gambler no doubt will be back, since, as he says, “No one’s ever gone until they’re forgotten.” Now, deal.