There's more Hollywood than history in this alleged true story of Frank T. Hopkins, an 1890s cowboy who dragged Hidalgo — a runt of a mustang out of the Seabiscuit school of dark horses — to Arabia to compete in a 3,000-mile endurance race against champions. If you can't guess the ending, you've probably never seen a movie, which makes you the ideal audience for Hidalgo, an adventure that never met a cliche it couldn't saddle, mount and ride for a butt-numbing two hours and sixteen minutes.P>hat said, the movie has its rousing moments. Viggo Mortensen eases into the role of Hopkins with the athletic grace and sly humor of a born movie star, though screenwriter John Fusco restricts his dialogue to such a minimum that Mortensen makes Clint Eastwood look like a raving chatterbox.P>he noise comes from director Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III), who gooses the tale with a sandstorm, a plague of locusts and a leopard attack that are all computer-generated and, unfortunately, look like it. Another awful clanking sound comes from the plot gears shifting. Hopkins uses booze to drown his sorrows over the battle of Wounded Knee before he heads off to a new country to find himself. Stereotypes of Arab culture abound, but Omar Sharif has a ball as Sheik Riyadh, the organizer of the race and the father who threatens to painfully cut off Frank's manhood for flirting with the Sheik's daughter (Zuleikha Robinson).P>I>Hidalgo is played by five mustangs, but T.J. — the horse used for close-ups — so charmed Mortensen that he bought him after production wrapped. You can see why. Even when the movie runs a ragged race, Hidalgo never loses his stride.
From The Archives Issue 159: April 25, 1974