Wellman Santee (Dolph Lundgren) is driving a truck through the desert with his friend (Ken Foree) dozing at his side when he hears a police siren and checks the mirror to see a motorcycle cop is pulling them over. He has to comply, but his pal is highly paranoid and produces a gun which he conceals to see about the patrolman as he gets out and walks around the back; it does not go well, however, and after a pair of lawmen show up shortly after, soon Wellman's buddy has been shot dead by the officer and when Wellman rushes out to see what has happened, the cop is shot too. Then Wellman takes a bullet. As if that were not bad enough, nine months later he is sentenced to life imprisonment and being taken to the jail...
Sometimes with an action movie you don't need anything clever-clever, nothing trying to push back any boundaries, you just need it to do what it promises and deliver on the requirements of the genre with the minimum of fuss but the maximum of entertainment. This was what you had in store should you give Joshua Tree, also known by the less oblique title Army of One, a try, a low budget flick that worked out what it could do with its resources and went above and beyond the call of duty to provide those setpieces. The man behind the camera was stunt co-ordinator extraordinaire Vic Armstrong, whose best known efforts were on the James Bond franchise and the Indiana Jones films, though that is barely scratching the surface at how prolific he has been.
This was his chance to helm a movie himself rather than take care of the second unit or the stunts, and you could tell he was having a whale of a time, especially when the scenes hotted up for a car chase or gunfight. It was a film that started out fairly conventionally - you just knew we would see the opening murders from a different perspective later on so we could understand what actually happened - with Dolph as the Hitchcockian man on the run from the authorities and villains alike, though the movie it most alluded to was the Humphrey Bogart "gangster redeemed by love" thriller High Sierra. So much so that Wellman watched that on television in a lull in the chase, and in a nice touch later on we see the end credits on another TV which hardly ever happens in films.
But Wellman's character was rather more saintly than Bogart's role in that he was far more persecuted for his faith, not religious faith but faith in himself as an innocent man. The machinations of what had brought him to this point were convoluted to say the least, patently devised to serve up as many action sequences as possible, but who was complaining? Especially when they reached the madcap heights that Armstrong pushed his team to conduct, notably the lengthy shootout in the warehouse, which is the main reason Joshua Tree went down in cult movie renown: not among everyone, it was a shade too obscure or low profile anyway to be often mentioned in the same breath as alternative thrillers cut from the same cloth, but if you had stumbled across it you would remember "that scene".
It must have lasted ten to fifteen minutes, or that's what it felt like as Armstrong paid homage to John Woo, one of his directing heroes, and a man who had a way with an over the top, operatic dose of violence with style. Not that this director quite had the flair of Woo, and that warehouse part was a blatant copy of the Hong Kong approach rather than an ingenious effort in its own right, yet the sheer volume of its mayhem wore you down until after Lundgren had blown away about thirty Chinese dudes and there were more on the way you had a weird respect for how committed Armstrong was to his mission to out-Woo Woo. It was so ridiculous it was genuinely entertaining, with Wellman finding a loaded gun to fire at every opportunity and the bad guys naturally unable to hit a barn door so that our hero escaped the hail of bullets with flying colours. Elsewhere, soap actress Kristian Alfonso was the female lead who is kidnapped without the protagonist twigging she is a cop, a stock role she offered some substance to, and George Segal was the crooked cop drawing all his forces against Wellman, which ultimately served up the unlikely image of Dolph Lundgren punching the respected light actor in the face. Throw in a car chase with high performance sports models, and you had a derivative yet curiously amusing experience. Music by Joel Goldsmith.