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Road Runner Dolph Lundgren hits the Highway to Joshua Tree

Anonymous, Impact (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).