You can expect the directorial debut of the man who performed movie stunts for Han Solo, James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Superman to be heavy on action, and that’s what this crackerjack action vehicle for Dolph Lundgren delivers.
Lundgren worked with Vic Armstrong on his previous film, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, on which Armstrong was stunt coordinator. Armstrong was either a stunt performer or stunt coordinator on some of the greatest action pictures of all time, including RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR WARS, TOTAL RECALL, SUPERMAN, and BLADE RUNNER. When he got the opportunity to direct a feature for the first time, he picked Lundgren to be his star. The result is JOSHUA TREE, which came out this week on a beautiful new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Shout Factory.
JOSHUA TREE unfortunately never played theatrically in the United States, though it's good enough to (it was a theatrical hit overseas, where Lundgren was a bigger box office draw). Its title was changed to the more commercial ARMY OF ONE when it was released directly to home video and later when Artisan put it out on a subpar full-frame DVD. So when JOSHUA TREE was first seen on VHS in the spring of 1993, it never got its just due as an above-average actioner. Hopefully, it will now.
The screenplay by Steven Pressfield (FREEJACK) is short on plot, but the central relationship between escaped convict Wellman Santee (Lundgren) and his hostage (played by DAYS OF OUR LIVES star Kristian Alfonso) is well-rounded and even generates a bit of steam. However, Armstrong (whose career as a second-unit director extends to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and beyond) is more interested in the chases, shootouts, explosions, and other setpieces, and when they’re as exciting as they are in JOSHUA TREE, he should be.
Santee, on his way to prison on a trumped-up charge of killing a cop, escapes from guards paid to kill him. He snatches a four-wheel-drive truck and Alfonso’s Rita Marrick, a deputy sheriff (it may be an in-joke that nobody in the film believes the fetching Alfonso is really a police officer, just like we in the audience don’t), and takes off into the desert with corrupt detective Severence (a slumming George Segal, having a good time) in pursuit. No prize for guessing that Severence is the movie’s real bad guy, who goes so far as to put a bounty on Rita to prevent her from telling what she knows.
Armstrong assembles a strong supporting cast and provides them with roles right in their wheelhouses (Beau Starr as a bad detective, Bert Remsen as crusty desert rat, Al Leong as henchman who gets blasted to death), so he doesn’t have to spend valuable screen time fleshing them out—time better spent blowing stuff up. Highlight is a spectacular shootout in a chop shop full of paint, fire, expensive sports cars, and bad guys loaded with chunky squibs. The Shout Factory Blu-ray appears to contain an uncut version of this sequence that never could have received an R rating, and it's worth owning the disc just to see this bravura action scene filmed without faking it with shaky-cam and CGI.