A review of “Hidalgo” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for violence, language

Run Time: 2 hours, 13 minutes

 

 

Nothing kills my Viggo jones like a bad western set in the Arabian Desert.

That’s Viggo as in Mortensen, the Aragorn of my dreams (Lord of the Rings 1,2,3).  Here Mortensen sheds his manly leather and unshaven visage in favor of a clean-cut cowboy look and morals to match.  As Frank T. Hopkins, he’s a man with a mission, a washed-up cowpoke cum Pony Express courier who gets wind of a spectacular horse race that nets the winner an enormous purse.

Quick as you can say “giddyup”, Hopkins and his loyal steed Hidalgo are thundering through the tundras of Syria and Damascus, bent on completing the great horse race of the Bedouins (the Ocean of Fire) and claiming the grand prize. 

The competition is stiff, and politically charged.  The prince for whom losing the race means losing face, the wife of a wealthy financier for whom winning the elite contest (and the rights to a privileged bloodline) is an obsession.  And of course those wily Arabians, who will stop at nothing to keep an American nobody from pilfering their dignity.

Mustangs don’t belong in races with thoroughbreds, even a little ‘stang who has never lost a running battle.  Competing against one hundred of the purest Arabian stallions ever bred, Hidalgo has something to prove.

The look and breadth of Hidalgo is wondrous, replete with breathtaking vistas and sinuous horseplay reminiscent of Seabiscuit.  Unlike the Oscar nominee, however, there isn’t a trace of a race to be found. Just a whiff of corrivalry and a number of meddling sub-plots. Take away the pretty views and you’ve got a dumbed-down drama that doesn’t come close to measuring up to its potential.

When a movie is based on a true life story, I expect life.  Not a stagnant action film that caters to the burgeoning career of Hollywood’s A-list stud. Viggo’s mellow come-what-may attitude slows the pace to a relative standstill when he’s not in the saddle.  An almost-but-not-quite romance with an Arabian princess (Zuleikha Robinson as Jazira) doesn’t generate the heat necessary to nudge the plot into sensuous or intriguing territory.

Omar Sharif (still sizzling at age 71) puts a festive spin on a wealthy Sheik who’s determined to prove that Hopkins’ spirited mount isn’t up to speed. Too little too late.