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Film review: Hidalgo

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In "Hidalgo," rider Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen, right), meets up with Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif)

In “Hidalgo,” rider Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen, right), meets up with Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif)

Richard Cartwright, Buena Vista Pictures

It's tempting to think of "Hidalgo" as an Indiana Jones adventure — if one had been directed by David Lean. Its sweeping desert scenes and cliffhanger-style moments of peril might remind you of both.

But the film is actually little more than a subpar rip-off of the Indy films with some mild Lean flavoring.

"Hidalgo" isn't unwatchable, and some less-discerning audiences may get some enjoyment out of it. But considering how much squandered potential there is here, the film is a major disappointment.

The biggest weakness here may be the film's star, Viggo Mortensen, which is surprising as he is coming off the enormous success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Mortensen stars as Frank T. Hopkins, a Wild West legend of sorts whose stories about his supposed adventures around the world have been widely debated and disputed.

This film revolves around one of his taller tales, in which Hopkins and his mustang Hidalgo supposedly raced across the Ocean of Fire, nearly 3,000 miles worth of Arabian desert. Here, they are brought to Arabia at the behest of Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who isn't exactly buying into the stories he's heard of the mustang's speed and endurance. So he invites the horse-and-rider to become the first non-Arabs to participate in the race.

Franks is more than happy to oblige. However, he still has to contend with treachery from his fellow riders. Also, his dealings with the sheik's liberated daughter, Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson, could land him in even bigger trouble with his benefactor.

As a director, Joe Johnston has proven himself skillful, despite the clichd, often conventional genre pieces he has chosen to make ("October Sky," "Jurassic Park III," "Jumanji," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"). But here, he's stuck with material that exceeds his skills.

Of course, it doesn't help that Mortensen is at his most mumbling here. And he attempts several different accents that prove distracting or laughable, take your pick.

Few, if any, of the supporting characters are particularly memorable, save Sharif's Western culture-savvy sheik. The still-magnetic screen veteran helps the film come to life whenever he's onscreen.

"Hidalgo" is rated PG-13 for violence (gunplay, swordplay, animal violence and violence against women), some sexually suggestive talk, brief gore, scattered mild profanity and racial epithets, a brief scene of torture and some brief drug content (use of a hookah). Running time: 136 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com