There was, apparently, a time in history when people would get really snobby if they found out your horse didn’t have a pristine lineage. I guess in a horse-based society, it was easy to tell what kinds of horses worked best and which ones were superior to others, the same as it’s easy to tell nowadays that a Toyota is going to run a lot better than a Kia, for example (and I say that as a Kia owner).
But I still don’t quite get it, and while the idea of a cowboy having a horse for a best friend is quaint and all, it’s hard for a fully modernized guy like me to really buy into it, and maybe that’s why “Hidalgo” feels a little silly to me.
Viggo Mortensen, in his first non-Aragorn role in four years, plays cowboy and former soldier Frank Hopkins, who is, circa 1890, a drunken performer in Buffalo Bill’s traveling Wild West show. (The resemblances to the first act of “The Last Samurai” are startling and, I venture to guess, coincidental.)
His best pal is his horse, the titular Hidalgo, a once-wild mustang who gets no respect from the thoroughbred crowd because of his mixed ancestry and untamed roots. But he can run fast, and he’s helped Frank win many a race.
Frank and Hidalgo are challenged to the Grand Prix of horse racing, a grueling 3,000-mile trek across Arabia, with a $100,000 purse going to the winner. Many die each year during this trek, burned up by the blistering sun, lost in sandstorms, or swallowed by quicksand. Naturally, Frank and Hidalgo accept the challenge and the race is on!
First, though, Frank develops a crush on the daughter of a sheik (Omar Sharif), which the anti-Caucasian sheik will have none of. After a bit of a tangent where Frank rescues the daughter (Zuleikha Robinson) from marauders, THEN the race is on!
There’s some fine adventure throughout the film, directed by adventure veteran Joe Johnston (“Jumanji,” “Jurassic Park III,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) and written by horse veteran John Fusco (“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” “Young Guns,” “Young Guns II”). Frank’s encounters with bandits, leopards and a plague of locusts are all excitingly staged and provide a good bit of fun, and Mortensen is gently charismatic as always. Oh, and Hidalgo is beautiful, as horses go.
But it’s all so … typical. You know exactly where the story’s going, and you know exactly what Frank’s going to do in any given situation, though I admit he generally does it with panache. It is a good film, if not a great one.
B- (2 hrs., 13 min.; )