DVD/BLU-RAY REVIEW: JOSHUA TREE

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05.09.2013

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MSRP $19.93

RATED R

STUDIO Shout! Factory

RUNNING TIME 101 Minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES

• Audio Commentary with Director Vic Armstrong and Producer Andy Armstrong

• Alternate Ending With Commentary by Vic Armstrong and Andy Armstrong

• New Interviews With Vic Armstrong, Andy Armstrong, and Dolph Lundgren

• Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

Dolph Lundgren sets a guy on fire and then kicks him into a pool of paint thinner!

The Humans

Vic Armstrong (Director), Dolph Lundgren, George Segal, Kristian Alfonso, Ken Foree

The Nutshell

It’s high-caliber action from start to finish when exotic car runner Wellman Santee (Dolph Lundgren) goes gunning for his money and running for his life after his partner is killed during a botched heist. Sensational stunts and spectacular special effects push the action into overdrive as he captures a beautiful hostage (Kristian Alfonso) and takes off across the desert in a high-speed chase. Six thousand square miles of sand and dozen of turbo-charged super cars set the stage for a bloody, bullet-riddled showdown with a ruthless killer.

“You need an Asian villain that’s subdued but still still more offensive than Lo-Pan? I think I can help you.”

The Lowdown

If anybody asks who my favorite action star of the 1980s and early 1990s was, I usually get surprised reactions when I say “Dolph Lundgren.” Schwarzeneggar, Van-Damme, Stallone, even wild cards like Norris and Seagal are considered acceptable answer but Dolph Lundgren isn’t.

In fairness, Lundgren’s fifteen minutes of fame was limited to a lot of direct-to-video action movies and villainous roles in the movies of more famous action heroes. Even his arguably two most popular starring vehicles (The Punisher and Showdown in Little Tokyo) are little more than cult movies in the great pantheon of action movies. Still I’ve always held an admiration for Lundgren as both an actor and a fighter, even if most directors chose to use his imposing size rather than his legitimate fighting talents. He’s been in a lot of garbage, to be sure, but there are still several gems to be found for those who look.

So is Joshua Tree garbage or a gem? A little bit of both to be honest. Lundgren plays Wellman Santee (the most action movie-ish name I can think of) a man on the run after being convicted of killing a police officer: a crime he didn’t commit. He takes a woman hostage who turns out to be a Sheriff’s deputy. Meanwhile two shady cops stay on his tail as he he seeks two things: money and revenge.

Still up to OSHA standards.

Part of Joshua Tree’s problem is with its central theme. Is it a revenge movie? Is it a chase movie? Is it a wrongfully accused movie? It tries, at different times, to be all three and fails three times as hard because of it.

The opening works well enough, with Santee escaping into the desert with his hostage, dodging the cops and doing cool vehicle stunts in a Toyota pick-up truck. But then the movie switches gears and loses all its built up momentum as it goes into the revenge plot, then as that gets going things switch up again and he’s trying to prove his innocence. It feels like 3 movies featuring the same characters that are barely connected. This is largely due to the way the movie seems to make up the plot as it goes along.

Santee’s hostage, Rita, being a sheriff’s deputy comes out of nowhere, then suddenly she’s the most badass deputy on the force and knows martial arts, then the Triad is a major part of the plot suddenly and their chief enforcer has a grudge with Santee. These things aren’t foreshadowed or even slightly hinted at until they just pop up and try and play off as though they’ve existed the whole time.

I would like to humbly suggest a new mascot for the List of the Dumb

Rita is a terrible character in almost every way possible, we only know she’s a badass because characters keep telling us that she is even though she spends the lion’s share of the movie tied up or injured. Her job is to be a victim, fall in love with Santee, and take her clothes off. Unfortunately the script thinks she’s the most interesting character in the whole movie and that we should spend every waking moment following her around. This leads to an action movie with very little actual action and a lot of time spent with a willfully dense heroine and a hero who refuses to explain his actions.

The obligatory sex-scene between Rita and Santee is probably the worst I’ve ever seen. They make out under a bridge, he rubs some cactus grease on her butt, and then they get cock-blocked by a train. Also somebody says the line “They call her Lovely Rita, but she’s no meter maid.” with a straight face.

“Stop making Cliffhanger puns! I wasn’t even in that movie!”

The car/gun/fight scenes are all top notch and probably the reason why this movie is as beloved as it is. The problem is that there’s really only one and a half of each in the movie. The final car chase between two exotic super cars is exciting for what it is (two vehicles bumping into each other on a twisty and very dangerous looking desert road), and the fight scene an hour into the movie is spectacularly choreographed and even fairly long but these two scenes are really all there is. Sure, Santee drives Rita’s Toyota fast and takes a lot of hairpin turns but no one is chasing them. He opens up with a shotgun early in the movie when he’s caught by some cops, but all he does is shoot some windows, signs, and fruit stands. Even the movie’s final fight scene is short and weak, primarily because they’re trying to make it look like George Segal and Dolph Lundgren are evenly matched.

This movie is a couple of rewrites away from being as good as it should be. The romantic lead is a waste of space, the villains do nothing for the majority of the movie other than sit around and say “Fuck you” to each other, the desert locale the movie is named after plays almost no part in anything that happens (which makes it understandable why the movie’s name was changed to Army of One on its initial release), and there’s very little action even if it is done well. There’s enjoyment to be had here and I can see the appeal, particularly among Dolph Lundgren’s filmography, but Joshua Tree is a movie any action lover can safely skip and still say they haven’t missed much.

“Tell me again how The Punisher sucked because I didn’t have a skull on my shirt!”

The Package

Joshua Tree is beautifully shot, making good use of any scene that takes place in the desert. The opening title crawl going from a helicopter panorama shot of the desert and zooming down to a lizard on a rock all without a single cut is the kind of thing that just sounds impossible.

As is the case with Shout! Factory discs, the picture and sound are great on both the DVD and Blu-Ray. English subtitles, Audio commentary, and interviews are featured on both disc. There’s also an alternate ending with a much better fight scene between Santee and the two corrupt cops that’s far better than the one the regular movie ends on. Strangely, both the director and the producer say they prefer theatrical ending.

If you do love Joshua Tree/Army of One this is definitely the version you will want to buy.

Rating:
★★★☆☆

Out of a Possible 5 Stars



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