Joshua Tree

(Vic Armstrong, USA, 1993)


A mismatched couple on the lam across America, a sub-plot concerning the cops pursuing them, the dilemma of an innocent man forced into acts of violence in order to regain his honour ...

From this synopsis Joshua Tree may sound a lot like A Perfect World (1993). But it is a far more routine action film in a strict generic mould.

Director Vic Armstrong – renowned for his second unit work on films including Total Recall (1990) and Black Beauty (1994) – drives the plot efficiently and provides a few stunning set-pieces. But there is little novelty or invention here.

Santee (Dolph Lundgren) is a Sylvester Stallone-style hero. He suffers unjust incarceration, personal humiliation and a string of punishing injuries with a stoic, if not downright masochistic, manner. Escaping jail, and narrowly evading the horde of villains on both sides of the law who are out to frame him, he takes innocent bystander Rita (Kristian Alfonso) as his hostage. She's actually a cop but she learns to love this great hulk of a man, between bouts of dodging bullets, firebombs and runaway cars.

As an action movie, Joshua Tree occupies a curious middle ground between quality and trash models of the genre. On the one hand, it tackles moral ambiguity, refers heavily to the Bogart classic High Sierra (1941), and turns down opportunities for sleazy titillation.

On the other hand, it sports unbelievably brutal scenes of violence and indulges in a perverse sub-plot involving a crooked cop (George Segal) and his wife (Michelle Phillips), who once acted as Mom and Pop to Santee. It is ultimately neither an entirely respectable nor a gleefully tasteless exercise – and thus one strictly for action connoisseurs.

© Adrian Martin July 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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