Starsky and Hidalgo
Directed by Todd Phillips ("Starsky and Hutch" and Joe Johnston ("Hidalgo"
Written by Stevie Long ("Starsky and Hutch") and John Fusco ("Hidalgo")
Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson ("Starsky and Hutch"), Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif ("Hidalgo")

 

Starsky and Hutch; Hidalgo

Unexpected circumstances led me to screen both "Starsky and Hutch" and "Hidalgo" on the same afternoon. And since I wasn't planning to burden you with a full review of either one, let me conflate them for you. First, each film has a horse: there is Hidalgo, the miracle horse, who among many other insults survives a spear wound to the chest that heals without so much as a scab. On the other hand, the horse in "Starsky and Hutch" is less fortunate; Starsky shoots him half a dozen times, through a garage door, and he dies before the horrified eyes of the bat mitzvah girl whose present he was to be. Which of these is more troubling I leave to you to decide.

Second, each film has people: Starsky has Hutch, or rather Ben Stiller has Owen Wilson, but it seems as though Wilson, particularly, is getting tired of working with Stiller, or perhaps just bored with his own, old screen persona. Where's that lazy slide through life that Wilson built his career on? Where's the open, na´ve face and the Texas drawl that's saved so many films before? Gone for good, I suspect. "Hidalgo," on the other hand, has only Viggo Mortensen, using possibly the worst cowboy accent ever uttered by a Danish-born actor, as the supposedly legendary Frank Hopkins, who (also supposedly) rode and won (on Hidalgo) a 3,000 mile horse race across the wastes of the Arabian desert, sometime in the 1890s. If you have your atlas handy, you'll see - as others have pointed out - that three thousand miles from Aden ends up somewhere in - take your pick - the Urals or the Carpathians. Unless you go round and round the Arabian peninsula you'll find yourself long since out of the desert sands and into the farms and forests of the north. So having stated what the race was, somebody should have laid it out for us.

The problems we face with each film are as follows: First, "Starsky and Hutch" is only barely funny; it's neither a parody of the old show nor an homage to it. Somehow it can't make up its mind, and in comedy that's a guarantee of disaster. Director Todd Phillips tries to play it both ways, and loses. What could have been either a) another "Top Secret" or b) a "Kill Bill" turns into mush, and sputters its way to the end.

"Hidalgo," on the other hand, is a terminal bore. How one makes a horse race - the most exciting kind of sport - into a bore is difficult, but director Joe Johnston has managed to pull it off. To begin with, he doesn't set up the race well enough. We should have had a map on screen, we should have been given some parameters to measure the race by, we should have been given a hero who doesn't swallow all his lines and has at least a spark of romance or machismo in him. Mortensen, no doubt trying to get as far from the character of Aragorn as he can, plays with a clenched jaw and a rigid body - just what an expert rider shouldn't have.

Moreover, it appears from the film that the racers ride only about a mile and a half every day, finding a town or village every night, except when they don't, and have to trudge across the desert sands dying of thirst. Somehow, the bad guys always get to the next stop ahead of poor Viggo, so they can ambush him when he arrives. But arriving each night even ahead of the villains are the support people; did they use helicopters? Humvees? or just have faster horses?

Let me spoil the climax for you: Viggo wins by a nose.