Viggo Mortensen ought to be careful. The Lord Of The Rings turned around a career which was rattling along in a middle-of-the-road rut. Now he's a star, women want him, men want to be him, blah-de-blah-de-blah... But it's not a status he'll hang on to if he keeps making movies as determinedly average as Hidalgo.
On paper it must have looked like a belter. Lots of horse riding, loads of scraps with natives, a few gunfights, plenty of beautiful terrain and a clutch of beautiful women. Chuck in a tragic backstory and you have all the makings of an above-average actioner. Yet Hidalgo is so much less than the sum of its parts.
For starters, they're not really `its' parts, so much as chunks sliced from other, better, movies. Lawrence Of Arabia suffers most - - they even cast Omar Sharif as the sheik who invites Viggo to compete in the race - - but lumps of everything from Raiders Of The Lost Ark to Little Big Man find their way into the script. Not good news when it already has far too many uncomfortable echoes of recent movie trends bouncing around inside it. The US cavalry veteran haunted by his memories of Indian slaughter as he tries to connect with a different native culture? That'd be Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. The plucky little nag overcoming prejudice and injury to take part in the big race? Say hello to Seabiscuit...
Of course, none of that would matter - - Hollywood's favourite food is itself - if director Joe Johnston had been able to stitch these shreds and patches into a more convincing whole. As it is, there are logic gaps and tattered plot seams everywhere: a half-formed romance here, a weedy villain there.
Then Johnston criminally abuses the two major resources that could have saved it all. Number one is the desert: - a couple of filter-heavy shots of sunsets aside, Morocco ends up looking like Morecambe sands. In Lawrence, David Lean's sandscape glowed with heat and colour; the desert of Hidalgo is muted and muddy, mired in perpetual twilight. It's a bleary, dumb exercise in what-the-hell's-going-on-o-vision.
Wasted resource number two is Mortensen himself. All right, so Hopkins isn't a flashing-eyed hero in the Aragorn mould, but he really shouldn't be quite this dull. Playing strong and silent is one thing, but Mortensen seems to have had a charisma carve-out since the end titles of The Return Of The King. He zombies his way through the film with barely a flicker of humour, excitement or even interest in his surroundings. C'mon, man! You're getting out-acted by your horse!
You won't hate Hidalgo - - that would take up far too much energy. But you will feel weary disappointment at the sheer ordinariness of it all.