Hidalgo (3/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

“Hackneyed” and “banal” don’t do this justice. In 1890 Frank Tompkins (Viggo Mortenson) travels to the mideast to enter a horse race with his horse, Hidalgo, in a storied annual 3,000 mile horse race across the desert. This film has every cliché you would find in a cartoon. The first 50 minutes ape The Last Samurai (2003), but not nearly as well. Tompkins feels guilty about the massacre at Wounded Knee, he becomes a drunk and performs in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, disgracing himself, oh, you know the drill. Then he’s challenged by the sheikh to enter the race. Then he gets to the desert and he meets the sheikh (Omar Sharif), who, naturally, speaks the Queen’s English, and is very, very civilized, thank you. The sheikh has a daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), who also speaks perfect English, who’s betrothed to a wicked Arab she hates. Then there’s the conniving English lady, Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard), living in the sheik’s desert tent court, who also has a horse in the race and is trying to thwart Tompkins. If you want to see something really ridiculous, it might be worth the price of admission to see how perfectly coifed this woman always appears…living in a tent…in the middle of the desert! She makes Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain (2003), who was also perfectly attired and made up, even though she was a North Carolina hillbilly, look like a piker.

There’s the obligatory rescue where our hero, Tompkins, invades the bad guy’s court, outnumbered thousands to one, but impossibly escapes without a scratch with the fair damsel, Jazira, in tow. The most publicized scene, that of Tompkins outracing a desert storm, occurs within the first hour. Unfortunately, there’s still an hour left to endure. This is slow, platitudinous, predictable, and boring.

What Director Joe Johnston and writer John Fusco were apparently trying to do was tell a story about a man, Tompkins, and his horse, Hidalgo. This could have been a touching tale, sort of a 19th Century Seabiscuit. But there’s so much nonsense thrown in that the man-horse relationship story gets lost. There’s very little positive I can say about this film. Even the cinematography seems like déjà vu all over again. Been there, done that, why waste your money?

March 20, 2004

The End