Screenplay : Matthew Bright
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Reese Witherspoon (Vanessa Lutz), Kiefer Sutherland (Bob Wolverton), Wolfgang Bodison (Detective Breer), Dan Hedaya (Detective Wallace), Amanda Plummer (Ramona Lutz), Brooke Shields (Mimi Wolverton), Michael T. Weiss (Larry)
"Freeway" makes blank stabs at being social satire by putting a 90's spin on the ancient fable "Red Riding Hood," but instead it quickly spirals into a banal waste of time. The spin is that Red Riding Hood is a hardened toughie who fights back against the Wolf. This is an interesting idea, but Matthew Bright, the writer/director of "Freeway" doesn't deliver a script worthy of its satirical intentions. Good satire requires sharp wit and creativity, and "Freeway" is heavily lacking in both departments.
The Red Riding Hood in "Freeway" comes in the form of Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon), a fifteen-year-old foul-mouthed, illiterate pyromaniacal kleptomaniac who wears too much eye make-up and is engaged to a gang member. Her mother is an regularly-convicted speedfreak prostitute (Amanda Plummer) and her step-father, Larry (Michael T. Weiss), is a lewd, unemployed crack addict who sexually molests a rather willing Vanessa on a regular basis.
The idea is to take the normally virginal concept of Red Riding Hood and spin it on its head. I could live with that, if the script had bothered to make Vanessa sympathetic in any way, shape or form. As Bright wrote her, Vanessa is not only unsympathetic, she is downright boorish, yet the movie insists that we side with her. Why? She spends most of the movie shrieking obscenities, sticking guns in people's faces, beating on other girls, and generally insulting and alienating any other human being she comes into contact with. At least Mickey and Mallory, the serial murderers in "Natural Born Killers" (1994) had a certain charisma that made them watchable. Vanessa is just grotesque, and because we cannot identify with her at all, the viewer is reduced to be a simple outsider watching a endless series of repulsive scenes that are supposed to pass for social satire.
The Big Bad Wolf in "Freeway" is Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), a child therapist who picks Vanessa up on the side of the highway when her car breaks down. Her mom and step-dad have just been arrested again, and she's escaping the social workers and trying to make her way to her grandmother's trailer park in northern California. Bob is nice enough at first, so nice that he gets Vanessa to tell him about the all terrible things that have happened to her, such as how she felt like a human urinal when Larry ejaculated in her mouth for the first time (I'm not making this up). However, it turns out Bob is the notorious "I-5 Killer" who's been killing prostitutes and dumping them along the highway.
He tries to turn Vanessa into his next victim, but she retaliates and winds up shooting him. And not in any real form of self-defense, mind you; our young heroine shoots him point-blank in the head execution-style. After she puts several more bullets in him, we get to watch her vomit in the dirt, pray to God after seeing a shooting star, then take his money and car and go to a diner to have breakfast. In only one the many scenes that tax our patience and intelligence, she walks into the diner with both her hands and her face smeared with dried blood, and then seems surprised when the waitress looks at her strangely. Would she not be able to feel all this blood all over her, and take the time to wash it off before she walked in the restaurant? Never mind. I forgot -- this is satire, so we're supposed to throw all realism to the wind.
Of course, Vanessa is arrested and put on trial. Bob somehow managed to survive the five bullets she put in him, and he is now horribly disfigured. Much to the dismay of his all-American wife (Brooke Shields). Vanessa shows no remorse for her actions, and from here the film takes wide left turn and follows her through a girl's prison where she beats up other inmates, gets locked in solitary, makes out with her mentally retarded bunk mate, forms a knife out of a toothbrush and melted saran wrap (like they would allow a three-time convicted arsonist to have a lighter in jail!), and openly mocks Bob's disfigured face while in court.
Because Bob seems like a model citizen and Vanessa is seen as white trash, the system is against. However, two police detectives (Dan Hedaya and Wolfgang Bodison) look into her case, and while revisiting the crime scene, the discover a piece of evidence that had somehow been overlooked before that might prove Vanessa is telling the truth about Bob's hidden homicidal tendencies. Believe me when I say that this piece of evidence is so large and so obvious, that even the most inept policeman would have found it blindfolded.
This was only one of the five separate occasions during "Freeway" when I actually got up with the intention of turning it off. I never did, because I kept thinking that something would change and make at least a small portion of this movie worthwhile. Well, that something never occurred. "Freeway" is not good satire, it's not good comedy, and it's not in the least bit entertaining.
©1997 James Kendrick