Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif, Louise Lombard, Adam Alexi-Malle, Sad Taghmaoui, Silas Carson, Harsh Nayyar, J.K. Simmons, Adoni Maropis, Victor Talmadge, Peter Mensah, Franky Mwangi, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Elizabeth Berridge, C. Thomas Howell, Malcolm McDowell
PG-13 (For adventure violence and some mild innuendo)
A Pony Express courier competes to bring honor to himself and his trusted palamino in Hidalgo.
Named after Frank Hopkins’ horse, this film takes us on a journey through the lands of Arabia, burning sands that few can cross unscathed. Viggo Mortensen stars as Hopkins who spends his time when not delivering messages drinking and getting paid as a trick horseman for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.
Hopkins is offered a large sum of gold to travel across the ocean to Arabia where he and his horse will compete against the finest Arabian steeds. His primary competition is from host Sheik Riyadh’s (Omar Sharif) son Prince Bin Al Reeh and the horseman for a British aristocrat. Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) attempts to convince Hopkins to turn home so that her competition will be lessened.
Director Joe Johnston ( Jurassic Park III and October Sky ) delivers the most unoriginal film in recent memory. The plot is a hodge podge of stolen plot ideas that mixed together form a torrent of cliche and ennui. The screenplay, written by John Fusco, is primarily paint-by-numbers storytelling and features characters and situations that are more modern in scope than appropriate for the period in which the film is set.
The only thing that helps the film are solid performances from Mortensen and Sharif. The latter gives the best of the performances and acts large circles around his fellow cast members. On the other side, Lombard gives the most abysmal performance this year. Her character is every bit the stereotype yielding no surprises. Sadly, Johnston fills the picture with dozens of Arab stereotypes and forgets to weave a tale that will capture the audience’s mind as well as its imagination.
The film looks like a million bucks, thanks to the talented cinematography of Shelly Johnson. It’s one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal film. The film’s most harrowing scenes are predictable and utterly unoriginal. One in particular features a wall of sand barreling down on Hidalgo and his rider as they race towards an area filled with “safe” ruins. The scene plays identically to one in the desert adventure The Mummy and carries not even a modicum of suspense.
Audiences are bound to find some element of this film stimulating, even if it comes in the form of uninspired movie traditionalism. The excitement and adventure is so blissfully average that even after tearing through the rice-paper-thin screenplay, you can’t help but find yourself dragged along by Mortensen’s charming perseverance.
Hidalgo may be about a man riding his horse in a race for his dignity but it takes to riding like a pedestrian takes to crossing a busy city intersection. It’s a hard time to get across but so unspectacular that you never remember doing it.
April 4, 2004