The title might indicate a three-hander in which screen time and plot emphases are perfectly apportioned, but “The Gambler, the Girl and the Gunslinger” turns out to be a star vehicle for top-billed Dean Cain, if only by dint of his stealing every scene that isn’t bolted to the floor. With all due credit to co-stars James Tupper (“Men in Trees”) and Allison Hossack (“Reaper”), who acquit themselves with engaging proficiency, Cain is the main reason this seriocomic Hallmark Channel offering easily transcends the familiarity of its retro Western plot mechanics and makes an agreeable impression from wire to wire.
As Shea McCall, a smooth-talking, sharp-dressing, draft-dodging hustler on the make in the 1860s, Cain comports himself with all the ingratiating sass of a natural-born con man, and the wink-wink self-assurance of someone who’s already read the last page of the script.
Through fair means or foul — amusingly, it’s not entirely sure which is the case — this purposefully charming rogue wins half-ownership of a thriving ranch outside a small town. But his good fortune is bad news for semi-retired sharpshooter B.J. Stoker (Tupper), the ranch’s other half-owner. Stoker doesn’t think kindly of the slick interloper, especially when the gambler starts winning the hearts and minds of the gunslinger’s long-time, under-paid employees. And Stoker’s trigger finger gets even itchier when McCall aims to please a beautiful widowed neighbor, Liz Calhoun (Hossack), who’s been a-hankering to lasso Stoker.
It takes an imminent threat by land-grabbing Mexican army irregulars — led by a renegade French commander — to turn the wary rivals into reluctant allies.
Attractively lensed by Paul Mitchnick in British Columbia locations — during, apparently, the rainy season — “Gambler, Girl and Gunslinger” progresses at a steady canter rather than a full gallop, as Canuck helmer Anne Wheeler (arguably still best known in the US for her theatrically released 1989 wartime romance “Bye, Bye Blues”) places greater emphasis on character development than plot velocity or action accumulation. There are some decent enough shoot-outs here and there, though nothing so graphic as to turn off Hallmark’s older demographic. And the ironically explosive ending will leave viewers less excited than bemused.
Which, of course, may be more then enough to generate demand for a sequel.