Held yearly for centuries, the Ocean of Fire--a 3,000 mile survival race across the Arabian desert--was a challenge restricted to the finest Arabian horses ever bred, the purest and noblest lines, owned by the greatest royal families. In 1890, a wealthy sheik invited an American, Frank T. Hopkins, and his horse to enter the race for the first time. During the course of his career, Hopkins was a cowboy and dispatch rider for the U.S. cavalry--and had once been billed as the greatest rider the West had ever known. The Sheik puts his claim to the test, pitting the American cowboy and his mustang, Hidalgo, against the world's greatest Arabian horses and Bedouin riders--some of whom are determined to prevent a foreigner from finishing the race. For Frank, the Ocean of Fire becomes not only a matter of pride and honor, but a race for his very survival as he and his horse attempt the impossible.
This much too long, primitively plotted family action adventure has a handful of well-handled sequences. But given the young audience the film is intended for, the picture is like having to finish an entire pot of broccoli to have a couple of jelly beans for dessert. The expansive and fairly unbelievable movie follows Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), who's persuaded to leave Buffalo Bill's Wild West show to participate in the Ocean of Fire, a death-defying race across 3,000 miles of Arabian Desert. The prize is $100,000. But the real star of "Hidalgo" is a handsome mustang with a white face and brown patches over each eye who gets more glamorous close-ups than Joan Crawford did in her entire career. Eventually, Frank and Hidalgo's journey is a testament to Frank's need for validation, and is so full of incident that the movie is finally about as colorful, and convincing, as one of those penny dreadfuls about Buffalo Bill's own life. — Elvis Mitchell
2004-03-05 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Hidalgo