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Thursday, March 11, 2004 08:08 pm

Movie Review


Hidalgo offers quite a ride even if it travels off course

Hidalgo is the sort of old-fashioned adventure they say Hollywood doesn't make any more. It has cowboys and Indians, a beautiful princess, sword fights, killer leopards, a daring rescue, a villain sporting a black goatee, and much more. You would think that the central story, that of a man attempting a grueling 3,000-mile race across the Arabian desert, is compelling enough. However, screenwriter John Fusco manages to bulk up the proceedings, as well as the delicious supporting performances, by giving his hero a few extra tasks to perform along the way.

That hero is Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), a guilt-ridden sot reduced to performing in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show after witnessing the Wounded Knee massacre. An opportunity for redemption arrives in the form of Aziz (Adam Alexi-Malle), an emissary of wealthy Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who invites Frank and his pure mustang, Hidalgo, to compete in a deadly long-distance horse race across an area known as the Ocean of Fire.

While Hopkins is scorned by the competition for being an outsider from the West, the Sheikh, an avid reader of dime novels, finds the cowboy a fascinating novelty. And although he threatens to castrate Frank when he and his daughter, the curious Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), are discovered together without a chaperone, it is to Hopkins the Sheikh turns for help when Jazira is kidnapped and held for ransom.

Loosely based on a true story (Hopkins did, in fact, exist), the screenplay by John Fusco is a bit rambling and unfocused, a flaw that slicing 15 minutes off the running time might have fixed. As the tight-lipped hero, Mortensen is one of the few actors today who seems convincing in an Old West setting, while the rest of the cast have a good time with the lean caricatures Fusco has created for them to play.

What other critics are saying. . .

Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London [PG] Frankie Muniz is secret agent Cody Banks on his second adventure. "Agent Cody Banks 2 may have a difficult time appealing to young girls without Hilary Duff on board." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Barbershop 2: Back in Business [PG-13] Spend another day with the crew at Calvin's [Ice Cube] barbershop on Chicago's South Side. "Cube is still adorable, but the potentially poppin' battle between the shop and big-box competitor Nappy Cuts gets obscured by sloppy chronology and flat, cartoonish politicos." (Laura Sinagra, Village Voice) White Oaks

Cheaper by the Dozen [PG] The Baker family moves from a small Illinois town to the big city after dad gets his coaching dream job. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt star in this remake. "Martin and Hunt, reliable pros though they are, don't stand a chance against the force arrayed against them: the bald cliches, unspeakable dialogue, and cheap sentimentality of the script . . ." (Jim Lane, Sacramento News & Review) White Oaks

Cold Mountain [R] A wounded Confederate (Jude Law) embarks on a perilous journey back home to Cold Mountain, N.C., to reunite with his sweetheart (Nicole Kidman). Based on the novel by Charles Frazier. "Cold Mountain reiterates a universal truth, and a message of hope." (Chuck Koplinski, Illinois Times.) Parkway Pointe

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen [PG] Lola's family moves from New York City to the burbs in New Jersey. Lola sets her sights on winning the lead in a school play while fantasizing about her favorite rock group. When she gets word the group's disbanding, she pulls out all the stops to make their farewell concert. Not reviewed. Parkway Pointe

50 First Dates [PG-13] Veterinarian Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) enjoys dating women on vacation, but leaves his playboy life after he meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore). Alas, Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss, forcing Henry to woo her every day. ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Hidalgo [PG-13] The story of a Pony Express courier (Viggo Mortensen) who travels to Saudi Arabia to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a dangerous race for a massive contest prize. "Nothing kills my Viggo jones like a bad western set in the Arabian Desert.' (Jeanne Aufmuth, Palo Alto Weekly) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [PG-13] Final part of trilogy, as hobbits Frodo and Sam journey to Mount Doom in Mordor. "As a model for how to bring substance, authenticity and insight to the biggest of adventure yarns, this trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal." (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)ShowPlace West

Miracle [PG] The story of the U.S. hockey team that beat the favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, then went on to win the gold. "An effective exercise in flag-waving nostalgia." (Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

The Passion of the Christ [R] Mel Gibson's version of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life. "The sacrifice Gibson's Jesus makes is purely physical. The violence to which he is subjected is portrayed to the point of being gratuitous and manipulative." (Chuck Koplinski, Illinois Times) ShowPlace East, Parkway Pointe

Secret Window [PG-13] A recently-divorced writer (Johnny Depp) is stalked by a man who claims he stole his idea. "Johnny Depp is hotter than ever, so scheduling a movie like this to open so soon after the Academy Awards is a very clever move on Columbia's part." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Spartan [R] Two detectives (Val Kilmer, William H. Macy) must rescue the president's kidnapped daughter, but as the case gets complicated, they uncover another crime with roots in the White House. "A white slavery ring? Yippie! David Mamet tackles another hot-button issue." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine) Parkway Pointe

Starsky & Hutch [PG-13]Two streetwise cops (Ben Stiller and Owens Wilson) bust criminals in their red-and-white Ford Torino with the help of police snitch called Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg). Based on the '70s TV series."Finally, the out-of-the-closet Starsky and Hutch!" (Victoria Alexander, ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Touching the Void [NR] The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. "The photography is awesome, inspiring many 'How did they get that shot?' moments." (Jami Bernard, New York Daily News) Parkway Pointe Art

Twisted [R] Jessica (Ashley Judd) portrays a police detective who finds herself at the center of an investigation after all her past lovers start dying off. To add to the drama, Jessica's dad was a serial killer. "Characters get distorted and motivations warped in this police thriller in order to keep bodies piling up and clues pointing in all directions." (Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

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