I'll admit: I like Dean Cain. Sure, he's become a B-movie mainstay, one of the undisputed kings of third-rate direct-to-video and made-for-basic-cable schlock, a guy whose very name in the opening credits guarantees a cheesetastic time. But he's also a heck of a natural charmer, and that helps quite a bit when you're crawling your way through "10.5 Apocalypse" or "Firetrap" or "The Dog Who Saved Christmas."
His latest is "The Gambler, the Girl and the Gunslinger," produced for (who else?) the Hallmark Channel. He plays Shea McCall, a fast-talkin', sharp-shootin' city slicker who rides into town and beats the local drunk at a round of poker. It's enough to win him half a ranch, which he gladly accepts, much to the dismay of the ranch's other owner, B.J. Stoker (James Tupper). The cowboy has no need for a dandy like McCall getting in his way, and he particularly doesn't like the way McCall has been eyeballing his sweetheart, the kindly widow Liz Calhoun (Allison Hossack).
The script is from Larry Cohen, of all people. You may remember that Cohen was the writer/director of such cult fare as "Hell Up in Harlem," "It's Alive," and "Q: The Winged Serpent," or that he's since made a comfortable living bringing his low budget sensibility to medium budget Hollywood with scripts for the thrillers "Phone Booth," "Cellular," and "Captivity."
The thought of the guy who once wrote "Maniac Cop" now working for the Hallmark Channel sounds like a twisted delight, but it's ultimately a letdown; Cohen restrains himself greatly here, delivering nothing but a mediocre genre story that only gets goofy by accident. There's no real sense of fun here. Charm, yes, but no fun, as if Cohen was aiming instead for earnestness in his cheapjack oater. (Things aren't help by the rather dull direction of TV movie veteran Anne Wheeler, who adds no pep to the proceedings.)
And by all means, this is a movie that should at the very least have been nutty enough to earn a few smiles. The main plot involves a gang of inept banditos led by a French general; there's a scene where a baddie dies by falling on the business end of a Pickelhaube; a turkey fits into two key plot points; side characters are played for comic relief. This whole movie should've been one big lark.
Instead, though, everyone's trying so darn hard to be as completely un-quirky as possible. The script is saddled with drippy dialogue that wants to sound old-timey but can't quite pull it off, leaving the cast to deal with stiff lines and uninteresting conflict. The extent of the love triangle offered by the title is with a smiling McCall nudging Stoker toward Liz, as if anything more complicated might be unseemly. The action is more or less nonexistent, the filmmakers figuring some shots of Canadian scenery and some bits with Dean Cain on a horse would make up for things like action or excitement.
But, yeah, Cain is decent enough here, as are Tupper and especially Hossack, who brings far more to her role than is required. This is a good B-movie cast in search of better material. But they won't find it here, not in the tame world of a Hallmark western.
Video & Audio
Man, this thing looks ugly. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is overly muddy throughout, with murky blacks, smeary colors, oversaturated tones, and way too much contrast. Movement is notably jerky here and there. Edge enhancement ruins a few of the remaining shots. There were some shots where I couldn't figure out what was going on at all. Yikes.
At least the Dolby 2.0 is adequate. Dialogue is clear; music and effects are well balanced, about how you'd expect a made-for-TV movie to sound. No subtitles are included.
The name says it all for "On Location Featurette" (3:49; 1.78:1 anamorphic), which lays it on thick with the EPK interviews and lengthy clips. Add in some promotional narration, and the whole thing plays like an extended promo.
Want to see those interviews without the promo filler? Click over to "Cast Interviews" (4:13), which collects sound bite-size quotes from the stars, talking about their characters and story and such. (For some reason, both featurettes appear to have been shot in 4:3 then clumsily stretched to 16:9. Did they not think we'd notice?)
A gallery of production photos(0:59) plays out in slideshow format.
The movie's trailer (0:46) - actually a promo made to run on the Hallmark Channel - rounds out the disc. Previews for "Mail Order Bride" and "Almost Heaven" play as the disc loads.
Even if "The Gambler, the Girl and the Gunslinger" were good enough to appeal to fans of Hallmark Channel movies, the disc itself is a total mess, with an awful transfer and mangled extras. Skip It.