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September 08, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS

The Road Warrior (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), the second and the best of the three Mad Max movies, is an electrifying fantasy-adventure set in a forbidding wasteland of the near future, a post-apocalyptic world parched for gasoline in which scavengers prowl a shimmering strip of highway, ready to kill for a tank of fuel. By now, Mel Gibson's biker Mad Max has become a Shane-like loner who's lost his family but is reluctantly pulled into helping a group of idealistic, bewildered survivors who control a fuel source in the wasteland. What ensues is a good-guys-versus-the-bad-guys saga, owing much to the Western but given a dazzling punk surreal look in production design and costuming. Be warned, however: For all its style and energy, The Road Warrior is extremely violent, mercifully not lingeringly so.

In Stripes (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.), a raucous summer refreshment unmistakably aimed at 18-year-olds, Bill Murray has a grand time sending up today's army. Fed up with working as a taxi driver, Murray persuades his pal Harold Ramis, a none-too-effective teacher of English to foreigners, into joining him in signing up with Uncle Sam. Soon they're up to their necks in pranks and shenanigans of the kind that people have laughed at all the way back to "See Here, Private Hargrove." Joining in the fun are the late Warren Oates as a veteran drill sergeant and John Candy who winds up, while on a night on the town, in a ring pummeled by six female mud wrestlers.

The title tells all: Kenny Rogers as the Gambler: The Adventure Continues (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m., concluding Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is a repeat of the 1983 sequel to the 1980 original, which for a while was the most-watched TV movie. It says much for the popularity of the amiable Rogers--and of his hit song which inspired the films--because the first was only so-so as a Western; Adventure is more of the same.

Love Child (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) is a well-crafted true story of a feckless young woman who winds up in prison only to become pregnant by a guard. When it was released theatrically in 1982, it seemed more appropriate to the small screen than the big one with its self-effacing style and its familiar truisms about needing to grow up and take responsibility for your actions and the need to be needed. But it marked a terrific debut for Amy Madigan, who brought to the heroine a reedy, sandy Appalachian look and an inner stoicism that expresses perfectly a lifelong acquaintance with hard times. No less fine is Beau Bridges as the likable weakling who seduces her.

Dempsey & Makepeace (Channel 5 Tuesday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m.) is the pilot for a series that will be seen regularly on Channel 5. It stars Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber as a New York cop and a London detective, respectively, in pursuit of a missing multimillion-dollar shipment of caviar.

Wednesday evening brings two new movies which smack of the series pilot. J.O.E. and the Colonel (ABC at 8 p.m.) features a superhuman soldier (Gary Kasper) taking on a group of terrorists determined to shut down national defense systems. Brass (CBS at 9 p.m.) brings back Carroll O'Connor as a three-star chief of detectives who's resisted becoming a bureaucrat.

For the umpteenth time, Channel 7 is bringing back (on Thursday at 8 p.m.) that potent rabble-rouser, Walking Tall, Phil Karlson's bloody, slam-bang fictionalized account of the exploits of the late Sheriff Buford Pusser of Tennessee, who is well played by Joe Don Baker.

Also in repeat is The Cannonball Run (CBS Friday at 9 p.m.), the first of the numbingly unamusing, star-laden Burt Reynolds-Hal Needham car-chase movies.

Saturday evening brings yet another series pilot, In Like Flynn (ABC at 8 p.m.), which teams Jenny Seagrove and William Espey in the investigation of a series of murders and disappearances in the Caribbean--not the Bermuda Triangle again, let's hope--as fodder for a novelist whose best sellers are based on actual incidents.

Repeating at 9 p.m. Saturday on CBS, the 1983 Illusions is the sort of tantalizingly bad film you could kick yourself for watching, yet at the end of two sloppy hours you're still hanging in there, wondering whodunit. Somehow Karen Valentine manages to make us care, even if we don't believe for a minute the plot about a fashion designer whose husband (Ben Masters) is apparently killed in a plane crash.

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