Also known as Army Of One, stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong's feature film directorial debut is 1993's Joshua Tree, a starring vehicle for the mighty Dolph Lundgren who made this film right after finishing up Universal Soldier. In the movie, Lundgren plays a truck driver named Wellman Santee. When we meet him, he and his partner Eddie (Ken Foree) are in the middle of a run when they're pulled over by the cops. One thing leads to another and Eddie gets shot dead - as does the cop. Santee is injured and wakes up in a prison hospital but sure of his innocence manages to escape one day while being transported.
While on the lam, Santee needs a truck and so he tries to jack one and winds up with a hostage in tow, the lovely Rita Marek (Kristian Alfronso). What Santee doesn't realize, and what she's understandably hesitant to tell him, is that she's not just a cop, but one of the toughest cops in the area. The man she just dumped is also a cop and looking to get her back. Enter Lt. Franklin Severence (George Segal), a cop with a mysterious tie to Santee's past and every reason in the world to want him back behind bars. As the small army of cops Severence has assembled closes in on Santee, he and Marek start to grow closer and with some help from a friend or two, it looks like they just might be able to prove who really killed Eddie and that cop in the opening scene...
A film that relies a bit too heavily on cliché for its own good, Joshua Tree remains a pretty solid action film. With some rather knowing homage paid to John Woo - at one point Dolph jumps through the air with twin .45s, lands with his back on a cart and then proceeds to propel himself through a garage taking out about twenty bad guys lead by Jimmy Shoeshine (Michael Paul Chan), Chow Yun Fat style! - and to Sam Peckinpah (the film bares some similarities to The Getaway), Armstrong's heart was obviously in the right place. His experience as a stunt coordinator on scores of big budget action movies including entries in the Indiana Jones and James Bond franchises definitely show as the picture is jammed with car chases, car crashes, hand to hand brawls and vicious shoot outs. All of this is handled admirably by Lundgren who is in amazing shape here, as well as by the members of the supporting cast. As an action movie, this one definitely delivers and because it's so high on adrenaline it makes it a little easier to get past the fact that the script is flat out predictable.
The film is a bit padded here and there and the romance angle feels pretty unrealistic, shoehorned in really just to give Alfonso a chance to take her clothes off and then later to get smeared with some fruit that Dolph eats in a truly bizarre love scene set in the desert as the cops close in. No one's likely to really fault the movie for that, however, as if Alfonso was cast for her looks, she does at least get the chance to show them off. Likely, she was cast for her ability to handle her dialogue reasonably well and to carry herself in the action scenes - she gets a few chances to do just that and holds her own. Of course, if you think too much about the movie it'll start to fall apart but this is a popcorn movie through and through, a celebration of stylish violence and ridiculous action set pieces. Dolph handles all of this well, he's likeable enough to carry the picture despite its flaws and there's a whole lot of fun to be had here if you're in the right frame of mind for it.
Joshua Tree debuts on Blu-ray in its proper 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio in a really nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. There's the odd speck here and there but overall the picture s quite clean and shows very nice color reproduction - the reds of Dolph's shirt are bright and bold without looking artificially boosted or bleeding all over the place. Black levels aren't quite reference quality but they're certainly strong and while the image does look like the product of the early nineties that it is, there's nothing wrong with that. Detail consistently surpasses what standard definition can offer as does texture. You'll notice this not only in the close up shots of the cast throughout the movie but throughout the background as well - case in point, check out the shot where Kristian Alfonso heads into the speed shop and sees the pictures on the wall, you can almost feel the grit and dust build up. There are no obvious problems with compression artifacts and if there's any noise reduction applied here, it's minor. Edge enhancement never really pops up and all in all, fans of the movie should be pretty happy with how it looks on Blu-ray.
DTS-HD Master Audio options are provided in English in your choice of 2.0 Stereo or 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles offered up in English only. Both tracks sound pretty nice, offering clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. The 5.1 mix predictably makes the action scenes a bit more fun by using the rear channels for some of the sound effects and to spread out bits and pieces of the score as well, while the 2.0 mix is probably closer to what the movie would have sounded like theatrically. Either way, both tracks offer decent depth and are free of any hiss or distortion. The 5.1 mix might not compete on the same level as a modern action blockbuster but for a twenty year old picture made on a modest budget, it sounds good.
Extras kick off with a commentary track from director Vic Armstrong who is joined by his brother, producer Andy Armstrong. This is a pretty fun track and not surprisingly given Vic's background, there's a lot of talk about the stunt work in the movie. The pair also discuss reception to the film, shooting on location in the desert, interacting with the cast and crew and various ideas that were thought of but never wound up being put into the picture. Vic and Andy also show up in a featurette that also includes input from leading man Dolph Lundgren. Clocking in at roughly twenty-five minutes this retrospective featurette covers some of the same ground as the commentary but having Dolph on board makes it completely worthwhile. There's a fair bit of focus here on where Dolph was at career wise when they made this movie, how he first met Vic Armstrong, the stunt work and the car chase scenes. It's quite interesting; laid back enough to be a decent watch but informative enough and structured enough to be genuinely informative.
Also included on the disc is an alternate ending for the movie that is available with optional commentary from Vic and Andy Armstrong. It's definitely different from the direction they took with the theatrical ending and a nice addition to the disc. The commentary form Vic and Andy explains why it wasn't used. Additionally we get a trailer for the feature, animated menus and chapter selection. As this is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, a regular DVD version of the movie containing identical extras is also included inside the keepcase.
This isn't going to appeal to anyone who doesn't have a preexisting love for the B-action movies of yesteryear but for those who do, Joshua Tree is gold. Yeah, fine, it's predictable and riddled with one cliché after another but Dolph is pretty solid here, offering a strong performance alongside a few fun supporting players. The movie goes at a good pace and features loads of action and stunts sans CGI, making them all the more impressive. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray is a really nice package overall, offering up the movie in its proper aspect ratio in a nice transfer with good audio and some cool extras as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.