From Middle-earth to the Middle East

But Mortensen fails to save `Hidalgo'

March 05, 2004|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Viggo Mortensen, newly crowned matinee idol thanks to his hunky turn as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, steps out from the shadows of Mordor for his first post-Rings star turn, in Hidalgo.

And on what does he spend his clout? A B-movie, a corny, old-fashioned horse opera.

Hidalgo is a Disney Western about a man, a Bedouin princess, a femme fatale and a painted horse. And a race across about 3,000 miles of Arabian desert, circa 1890.

Mortensen plays Frank T. Hopkins, a U.S. Cavalry courier and long-distance horse racer rescued from a life of touring with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show by sheiks with an eye for competition. Even though his horse is "of impure blood," they invite him to take part in the greatest horse race on Earth, a death-ride gallop from the Persian Gulf to Damascus for a big prize in gold.

An English noblewoman (Louise Lombard) has a horse in the race, and her eye on a fine Arabian line of horses she hopes to score with a victory. She may even have her eye on Frank. Omar Sharif is the sheik with the favored horse and rider. But there are treacherous relatives at work, and the sheik's daughter is kidnapped. Will the American cowboy ride to the rescue or keep his nose in the race?

Hidalgo is a limp affair. The edits are ugly, and there isn't a frame of it, in the desert, where we're not reminded that you can't fake Lawrence of Arabia on a Disney budget.

Worst of all was Mortensen's decision to play this cowboy not just as the strong silent type, but as a mumbler. And there's no Sean Astin to bail him out.

At least the Wild West show stuff is fun, and the horse is heroic. And Mortensen looks better on horseback than any actor of his generation. If there's another Western in his future, he should rent The Searchers and Pale Rider. There's more to this stuff than just saddling up.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Hidalgo

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Louise Lombard

Directed by Joe Johnston

Rated PG-13 (adventure violence, mild innuendo)

Released by Disney

Time 136 minutes

Sun Score *1/2

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