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I'm usually wary of movies that can be described as "blank" meets "blank". Alien meets Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park meets Jaws - I've been burned before. After seeing the preview for Hidalgo, my first impression was, "Oh, it's Seabiscuit meets Indiana Jones." Red flag alert! Just like those previous times, I ended up seeing the movie anyway. Why do I keep doing that?
Hidalgo isn't so much Seabiscuit meets Indiana Jones as it is Pony Express meets Stereotype Theatre. Okay, there isn't actually a movie called Stereotype Theatre, but then, you know what they say, "if the horseshoe fits..." Of course, I can't really fault Hidalgo much for that, since most adventure stories use stereotypical characters of one kind or another to keep matters simple. I mean, how else are we going to know who the villians are if they don't all speak with funny foreign accents?
This adventure tells the tale of legendary cowboy, Frank Hopkins, played by Vigo Mortensen. In the late 1800's, Hopkins rode for the Pony Express, and found fame as winner of over 400 long distance horse races. Along with Calamity Jane and other pioneer favorites, he and his trusty steed, a mustang named Hidalgo, were then featured in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. The centerpiece of the story is a 3000 mile horse race across Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Hopkins and Hidalgo enter the high-stakes race against 100 of the Middle East's finest thoroughbreds and most experienced riders.
Though Hidalgo is supposedly based on a true story, no one has ever been able to verify that Hopkins actually won all those races, or that he ever entered a 3000 mile race in the Middle East, or that he ever even met Buffalo Bill Cody, let alone appeared as a star in his rodeo show. Hmm, well, at least we know Frank Hopkins was a real guy, if that was, in fact, his real name...
What I found most ironic is that Hidalgo ridicules Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show for distorting historical events for the sake of entertainment, then proceeds to do exactly the same thing! And, am I imagining it, or has Hollywood been giving the 7th Cavalry a lot of undue flak lately? Are they the last safe target left for Tinseltown's scorn? I hope not! It also amazes me that this movie seeks to thoughtfully celebrate the noble spirit of Hidalgo, a mixed-breed horse, along with Hopkins, who was part Native American, but then stoops to filling the rest of the film with a bunch of stock Hollywood Arab clichés running around shouting "Infidel!" all the time. Uh, oh! Disney's giving off mixed signals again!
Okay, let's forget about clichés, stereotypes and historical inaccuracies. I can overlook these things if a movie is entertaining. You may notice, I didn't. As a pure adventure flick, Hidalgo lies somewhere between extremely boring and mildly dull. For starters, we have a horse race, or more accurately, a horse trudge, across a desolate, sun-scorched wasteland. Boy, sounds thrilling, doesn't it? Luckily, the sandstorm from The Mummy makes a guest appearance to liven things up. Unfortunately, we then have to endure that clunky romantic triangle required of all recent adventure films, apparently used here to slow Hidalgo's otherwise blistering, tortoise-like pace. And, not to be overshadowed, there is Hidalgo the horse, who was given just enough human attributes to make it appear as though he was actually "acting". Yeah, real cute. All the while, Vigo saunters about dourly, doing his very best impersonation of Gary Cooper impersonating Henry Fonda. I was tempted to use this golden opportunity for a quick nap, but decided to hold out for one of those surprise, twist endings. Hmm... Stereotype Theatre. You know, that might be good!
Directed By: Joe Johnston
Written By: John Fusco
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif, Louise Lombard,
Adam Alexi-Malle, Saïd Taghmaoui
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some mild innuendo.