Kenny Rogers has made some interesting decisions in his career, but no matter what they were, you can't help but smile and like the guy when you see him in person or on television (assuming you can still recognize him). He has the warm and sincere grandfather presence about him, as he is always jolly, happy, and singing his country and easy listening to music. I wish he would have taken the path in his music career when he made the song 'Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)', which was featured in the hit film The Big Lebowski, but he didn't go that rock n' roll route, and despite what anyone says, that was the coolest Kenny Rogers ever was. And it was the coolest Kenny Loggins ever was too, but I digress.
Instead, Rogers became the country-western, easy listening, and family friendly singer , occasional actor, and Las Vegas act. Perhaps in the television realm, he is most known for his role in 'The Gambler', which was a made-for-tv movie that aired on NBC in 1980. By some bizarre aligning of the planets, this cheaply made film scored well with critics, spawned four sequels so far, and received two Emmy nominations. If you are new to Kenny Rogers or 'The Gambler', and you watch this, you won't believe that this was nominated for any sort of an award, but it was back in 1980, when times were simpler, and TV shows didn't rely on cliff hangers, violence every two beats, and tons of sex and nudity. That being said, 'The Gambler', which is based on Rogers' hit song of the same name, is still a solid made-for-TV movie, despite its cheese factor and cliches. Not to mention the fact that this film does indeed star Rogers and Tron himself (Bruce Boxlietner) as traveling poker players and gunslingers.
Rogers plays an aging poker player named Brady Hawkes, who like Yoda in Star Wars, hobbles around, but when the going gets tough, can handle himself in any situation. Hawkes receives word that he has a son, whom he has never met or never knew existed, and that he and his estranged wife are abused and being held against their will by an evil casino owner (Clu Gulager, awesome), and so our story is set in motion. Hawkes crosses path with a young man named Billy Montana (Tron), who is a cocky and wild poker player who is always looking to cheat his way to win a game, but is almost always caught.
Hawkes saves Montana from receiving a severe beat down, and the two board a train and form a Jedi master/apprentice relationship in the form of learning poker. In addition, Montana agrees to help Hawkes get back his family. The two travel by train and get into some mild adventures, one of which Rogers offers to shave a guy's beard with his gun in so many words. And our female lead is that of a former prostitute with the heart of gold, who is turning her life around, where the duo help her out along the way.
It's no secret that Rogers isn't the best actor out there. Hell, he isn't even a good actor, as he delivers his lines softly, but with confidence, you can't help but smirk. You will never be on the edge of your seat here either with the action, as it is all mildly entertaining, and has a safe for all ages type of thrill. And when the movie wants you to get emotional, it hits you over the head with its cheese ten times over.
That being said, this is a fun and nostalgic movie of what made-for-tv movies were like for a lot of us growing up. The film was made on a very cheap budget, but the camera angles and image itself is quite striking. There is a reason why 'The Gambler' has spawned numerous sequels and won awards, and whether or not you choose to acknowledge the simple and good aspects of the show, you'll have to agree this is a fun tv series, even if it begs to be riffedon by the guys from 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000'.
'The Gambler' comes with an upgraded 1080p HD transfer. This is certainly the best the film has ever looked. It has been converted to a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio from its full screen 1.33:1 aspect, and was just a delight to see this way. However, this being shot on 35mm back over 33 years ago on the cheap for television, there wasn't a lot of clean up done for it.
There are still some dirt, hairs, and specks that pop up throughout. Other than that, the picture looks good and has a "as is" quality to it, meaning it doesn't look digitally tampered with, as it has not edge enhancement or aliasing to it. There is a great filmic smooth grain to the picture with the new transfer giving it some fine new detail. Backgrounds look clearer as do closeups and costumes. Colors look well-saturated and balanced and the skin tones are natural with black levels running inky. Solid video presentation here, for what this came from.
The box says this comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, but it also comes with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 audio mix, which was nice. The DTS track is on the Blu-ray while the Dolby track is on the DVD. Being this old and made-for-tv, there wasn't a giant difference in the two, but you should always pick a lossless DTS-HD track over anything else. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand.
There was no evidence of pops, cracks, or hissing. There are some decent sound effects and ambient noises, but everything is on the softer side and never packs a big punch, even the bigger actions scenes. The score, which is mostly different arrangements of the famous song, 'The Gambler' sounds good, but this audio track does the job, even if it's nothing to write home about.
There are no supplements.
'The Gambler' is a fun film with the iconic legend that is Kenny Rogers. Despite its cheesiness and slow moving action, this is worth watching. The video and audio aren't top notch, but they're definitely the best they have ever looked. Unfortunately, there are no extras. For fans of Kenny Rogers, this is a must own, however, if you're curious, rent this first.