Dolph Lundgren hits the Highway to Joshua Tree
(UK), December 1993
Joshua Tree is Vic Armstrong's directorial debut,
and it has all the strengths AND all the weaknesses that you'd
expect from such a venture. Armstrong was the man responsible
for the explosive action sequences of films like T.2 and
Universal Soldier, so it should come as no surprise to
hear that the stunt of Joshua Tree are state-of the-art.
Vic is also an experienced second unit director, and so lends
an experienced eye to the sweeping vistas of the Arizona badlands
in which much of the film takes place.
The general LOOK of the
film is first-rate, and it's evident that every dollar of the
budget has found its way onto the screen. Where the film falls
down is in the acting and script departments. The story itself
is fine. It's the kind of plot that a latterday Sam Peckinpah
would make much of, and Armstrong's direction has much in common
with the American maestro of mayhem's later films, pictures like
Convoy and The Ostermann Weekend.
The screenplay barely creaks along, and is helped not one whit
by the now-expected one-note performance of Dolph Lundgren, still
sporting the Lurch cut he adopted for Universal Soldier.
Lundgren is Wellman Santee, a convict who escapes to seek vengeance
for his partner's murder. His quest pits him against Lt. Severance,
an obsessed cop. If Peckinpah HAD helmed this flick, the role
would probably have been played by Ernest Borgnine. As it is,
the film has to make do with George Segal, an American actor
well past his sell-by-date, who hams up the mediocre material
unmercifully. Leading lady Kristian Alfonso, as a lovely lady
cop who gradually comes to respect and trust our 'hero', doesn't
disappoint, and doesn't surprise either, while Geoffrey Lewis,
no stranger to the crash and burn genre, lends sterling support
in a massively under written role. Former Mommas and Poppas singer
Michelle Phillips is given little to do as Segal's wayward wife.
In terms of everything EXCEPT the visuals, this is regulation
straight-to-video fodder. Joshua Tree is saved, only just!,
by the fact that so much screentime is devoted to Armstrong's
virtuoso displays of pure adrenalin action. A race between two
Italian sport cars is choreographed like a ballet, as is the
Leone/Woo/Peckinpah (take your pick!) shootout in a Chinese-owned
chop chop. Sequences like these deserve widescreen appreciation.
On regular video, one of the best stunts, in which Vic'sbrother
Andy is set on fire, occurs OFF camera. We're certain he wouldn't
have risked life and limb to roast in the wings!
Lundgren shows none of his martial arts prowess here, though
he is memorably beaten up by burly kickboxer Al Goto, who previously
duelled Bollo Yeung in Shootfighter. Joshua Tree
will do great business on video. It has the requisite elements
of brawn, bullets and blow-ups. For a director of Vic's unquestionable
vision, it has to be classed as something of a disappointment.
Hopefully, his current project, Black Beauty, will give
him a chance to appeal to the softer side of the psyche, and
Joshua Tree will be seen as a stepping stone on his path
to creating the ultimate action film of which he is capable.
(Joshua Tree is released
by Entertainemnt In Video on October 11th).