1996 - R - 110 Mins.
|Director: Matthew Bright
|Producer: Chris Hanley and Brad Wyman
|Written By: Matthew Bright
|Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya and Amanda Plummer
|Review by: Bill King
Few movies are as searing and bleak as "Freeway" (1996). This movie is so twisted that it should become a favorite for anyone who's into underground films, even though the movie doesn't really qualify as one. Matthew Bright, the writer and director, takes the premise of "Little Red Riding Hood" and modernizes it with a '90s sensibility. Little Red Riding Hood is a white trash illiterate girl from the bad side of town, and the Big Bad Wolf is a serial killer.
Vanessa Lutz's (Reese Witherspoon) life is full of tragedy. Her father is dead, her mother is a hooker and her step-dad molests her. It doesn't help that she can't read and has a criminal record. After her mother and step-dad are busted, her parole officer shows up to put Vanessa in a foster care home. Vanessa is vehemently against this idea, so she slips away from the parole officer, steals her car and decides to take a trip to her grandmother's house, complete with red leather jacket and a basket with a gun in it.
There have been news reports of the I-5 killer. Garnet Wallace (Dan Hedaya) is the detective assigned to the case. The killer stalks women on the freeway and kills them. There are no leads to the identity. Meanwhile, Vanessa's car breaks down on the freeway, and a helpful man, Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), pulls over to help. Her car is completely shot, so he offers her a ride. He is a child psychologist, so Vanessa proceeds to spill out her story of how bad her life is, and Bob seems to offer sound advice. Bob's questions turn hideous, and Vanessa realizes that this man is actually the I-5 Killer.
"Freeway" can be read in several different ways. My preferred approach is that Bright simply wanted to take the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and place it in a modern setting. He saw the possibilities for a sadistic tale, and after throwing in his own material amongst the references to the story, the finished product comes across as something startling and inventive. One could also view the film as a satire, as some have, but I don't think there are any satirical elements present. The movies does make a point about how a respectable member of society can get away with a crime, while someone labeled as a troublemaker has a tougher mountain to climb, but the movie doesn't address that idea deeply enough to become a message movie.
The performances by the two leads are extremely powerful. Reese Witherspoon, who normally plays characters with a wholesome image, gives her best performance as Vanessa Lutz. She speaks with a mean southern accent, swears a lot and cares little for others. She proves her talent with this movie, and if she never plays a role like this again, then at least we'll all know what she's capable of. Her range is more vast than you might initially think. Kiefer Sutherland plays the I-5 Killer, the Big Bad Wolf, with a combination of sophistication and madness. One minute, he seems like a nice guy, but when he starts to let his animal instincts take over, it's so subtle that it's easy to dismiss it.
Matthew Bright toiled in writing direct-to-video movies for Full Moon Entertainment before making his directorial debut here. It's a great first effort, though he hasn't been seen much since. He wrote and directed the far inferior "Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby" and the blink-and-you-miss-it "Ted Bundy." As evidenced in his "Freeway" movies, he has a twisted vision and dark sense of humor, traits that could definitely produce something worth seeing again, if only he has the desire to do so.