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HIDALGO

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Mail carrier Frank T. Hopkins and his faithful mustang, Hidalgo, grow disillusioned with the Old West, and set sail in 1890 for the grandest challenge man and horse have ever faced -- the "Ocean of Fire," a 3,000-mile horse race across the Arabian desert. To add drama to the obvious physical challenges, the story sets up our amiable, righteous cowboy Hopkins (played with grimy swagger by Viggo Mortensen) against the clannish, conniving Arabs, led by Omar Sharif, who openly despise outsiders and are obsessed with blood purity, in man and horse. (Both Hopkins and Hidalgo are of "mixed" blood.) Any larger humanist message is surely lost in director Joe Johnston's heavy-handed portrayal of the Arab villains, booked out of central casting circa 1927 -- hard narrow eyes, swarthy skin and super-pointy beards. Besides these mean people, Hopkins also runs into some nasty digital effects that variously take the forms of: a sandstorm, a locust swarm and two angry leopards. That Hopkins and Hidalgo will prevail over 136 minutes to teach us all lessons about winning, persevering and caring is obvious, and buoyed mostly by pretty desert scenery and one's tolerance for old-fashioned manly, but utterly unbelievable, tall tales. Two cameras

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