You don't have to be a Kenny Rogers fan to enjoy his popular Gambler
telefilms. Inspired by Rogers's 1978 hit song (which is replayed in each film) and beginning with The Gambler
in 1980, this low-key series of two-night, four-hour broadcasts drew a majority of Rogers's loyal fans, and they hold up today as likeable showcases for Kenny and a lot of young 'n' old genre stalwarts.
The Gambler Returns: Luck of the Draw (1991) has an irresistible hook: As feisty Reba McEntire partners up with Rogers's Brady Hawkes, the hoary plot features a posse of stars from classic TV Westerns, from Gene Barry's Bat Masterson to David Carradine as swift-kickin' Kwai-Chang Caine, from the '70s ABC series Kung Fu. Hairstyles are wrong, production values are adequate, and the plot's disposable: On the eve of Congressional outlaw of gambling, Reba recruits Kenny to gamble cross-country from Mexico to finance a final championship poker match in San Francisco. Bloodless shoot-outs ensue as greedy villains follow their trail, but the relaxed pacing allows leg-room for multiple subplots and supporting characters, most played by still-ornery veterans of the genre.
Playing for Keeps (1994) is even lankier in its rhythms, and by then Rogers was comfortably wearing his role like an old leather glove. The plot drops Kenny and Mariska Hargitay (who'd later costar in Law & Order: SVU) into a languid rehash of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but its father-'n'-son reunion is played for keeps, as it were, and it gives this chummy TV movie some added dramatic heft. [Note: Although both films run 180 minutes, Artisan has inexplicably divided Luck of the Draw on discs 1 and 2; Playing for Keeps fits entirely on disc 2.] --Jeff Shannon
The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw: Kenny Rogers saddles up for his most spectacular ride as Brady Hawkes, better known as The Gambler. He's headed from Mexico to San Francisco to test his skills in the richest poker game ever. Along for the ride are Reba McEntire, as Burgandy Jones, and Rick Rossovich, as trail partner Ethan Cassidy. Together, these three stir up more trouble than they can handle. It's a rip-roaring adventure with your favorite card sharp - so come along for the ride as THE GAMBLER RETURNS! The Gambler 5: Playing for Keeps: The Gambler Brady Hawkes (Kenny Rogers) is back and this time he's been dealt a hand that could cost him his son's life. Retired from gambling, Brady is leading the life of a rancher, but when his son Jeremiah starts running with a band of thieves called the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, all bets are off. With the help from madam Fanny Porter (Lori Anderson) , and his friend, the famous actress Lily Langtry (Dixie Carter), Brady finds his son but not before Jeremiah's arrested by Pinkerton Detective agency.