Thursday, March 15, 2012

Movie – Freeway (1996)

Freeway is probably going to be the most adult of the movies I review for my Fairytales for Adults category.  It initially received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA purely for the dialogue in it.  (Yes, the MPAA has been laughable for a long time when it comes to ratings.)  After censoring the movie to get an MPAA-approved version, it got released in the U.S. as an R-rated film.  Even then a couple quick scenes had to be removed to get release in the U.K., and it was initially banned in Australia.  Why all the fuss?  Well, this movie is a seriously demented (and I mean that in a good way) retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.  It’s not for everyone, but if you like dark comedies, then it’s probably right up your alley.

Those who have only known Reese Witherspoon since her career change to “America’s Sweetheart” with the Legally Blonde movies and subsequent work will be in for a bit of a shock to see one of her earlier, grittier movies.  She stars as Vanessa Lutz, a fifteen year old L.A. slum girl with a crappy family life.  Her mother Ramona (Amanda Plummer from Pulp Fiction) is a drug addict and prostitute.  Ramona’s live in boyfriend Larry (Michael T. Weiss from The Pretender) has sex with Vanessa when her mother isn’t around.  Vanessa’s not thrilled by it, but she’s not opposed to it, either.  The only good in Vanessa’s life is her boyfriend Chopper, played by Bokeem Woodbine.

One day Ramona gets busted by the cops for prostitution.  When they come to her home they find Larry and Vanessa in the middle of things.  The cops haul both adults to jail and turn Vanessa over to Child Services.  She tricks the social worker and steals her car.  She stops to see Chopper before she leaves.  She’s going to try to get to her grandmother’s house in northern California.  Chopper gives her his gun for protection.  After she leaves, though, a rival gang comes by and kills the defenseless Chopper.  To complete her run of bad luck, the car breaks down on the freeway.

A man in an SUV pulls over to offer his help.  He tells her the car is dead, but he can give her a ride.  He introduces himself as Bob Wolverton and he is played by Kiefer Sutherland.  He engages Vanessa in conversation, lets her know that he works with children in dealing with their psychological problems, and soon has Vanessa spilling her guts about her horrible home life.  Their conversations get pretty explicit, but Wolverton insists that this is a good thing; by suppressing these things that just makes them worse.

Eventually Vanessa catches on that Wolverton is not who he says he is; that he’s doing this as some sort of sexual turn on.  He reveals that it’s not just that; he’s the I-5 serial killer that has been preying on stranded women.  Far from being afraid of him, Vanessa ridicules him.  This pisses him off, and he tries to attack Vanessa.  He makes the mistake of thinking that she is stupid.  She’s not stupid; she’s just uneducated.  She gets the upper hand, and using the gun Chopper gave her, she seriously f*cks up Wolverton and leaves him for dead.

She is quickly arrested and freely admits to shooting him.  She is shocked to find out that Wolverton is going to survive.  She tells the cops he’s the serial killer they have been looking for, but they don’t believe her.  Wolverton is an upstanding citizen with no criminal record and a perfect wife (Brooke Shields) to stand by him, while Vanessa is a juvenile delinquent who has been in constant trouble.  She is sent to a youth detention center.  While there she meets some now familiar faces.  Look for Brittany Murphy and Alanna Ubach in early roles as fellow detainees.  Also look for two twin girls who aren’t twins in real life.  They are played by Monica and Leanna Creel.  Riddle: when are identical looking sisters with the same birthday not twins?  When they are two of a set of triplets.  With their sister Joy Creel they appeared in quite a few different shows and movies in the 90s, most notably the last couple of Parent Trap sequels.  Reportedly, the filmmakers initially approached twins Brittany and Cynthia Daniel from the Sweet Valley High TV series, but they turned the roles down.  Had they accepted that probably would have messed with a lot of people’s heads at the time.

After some time has passed, Vanessa manages to escape from the authorities and resumes her trip to her grandmother’s.  Wolverton hears about her escape, and figuring where she is headed, he goes there in order to get his revenge on her.  You can probably guess that when Vanessa arrives she finds that the person in her grandma’s bed has, ahem, larger features than her grandmother.  Vanessa’s reaction – “Them’s some big ugly f*ckin’ teeth you got, Bob.”

In case you might not pick up on the Little Red Riding Hood story, the opening credits feature illustrations done by Robert Crumb that tell a twisted version of the tale itself.  Writer/director Matthew Bright also did a non-sequel titled Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby.  I have not seen it, but it is a similarly twisted telling of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale.  It doesn’t star any of the people from this film, although Michael T. Weiss appears as a different character.

As you can probably tell from this description, and from the initial NC-17 rating for language, Freeway probably isn’t a movie you want your youngest ones to be listening to.  It’s not for adults that have a delicate disposition, either.  It’s not gory, but it does deal with some disturbing subject matter.  It does it in a comedically twisted way, though, so I never found the topics too much to take.  Of course, I like twisted humor, so I might have liked this movie more than others will.  (It got two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert, though.)  If you are looking for some demented humor of your own, then I highly recommend this film to you.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. I really enjoyed Freeway, Sutherland is brilliant as that predatory character who, for the most part, is morally dubious until he's not and then it's too late for you.

    Witherspoon is excellent, it shows she can actually act. Her gritty performance reminds me a bit of Britney Murphy in Murder One, incredibly talented. I think should I spawn little versions of me I'll be forcing them to watch it, the kind of film that defines stranger danger.

  2. @John Baxter - Thanks for the comments. You make some good points. I should have mentioned in my review that I had seen Witherspoon in only one movie prior to this (a romantic interest of the lead in 1994's S.F.W.), so when I saw her as the lead in Freeway, I sat up and took notice.

  3. Oh.... I so loved this film. It's shocking now considering the recent films that Reese Witherspoon has been in.

    I remember watching this when it was on HBO. It was nuts I fucking fell in love with that film and Reese Witherspoon. She was profane, she was funny, she didn't take shit from anyone. I loved that performance. Plus, I also learned how to use a toothbrush as a weapon. I also loved Reese in S.F.W.. That was a good movie.

    Now she's an overpaid, overrated actress who had just gotten too lazy to really do anything that could be daring.

  4. Glad you enjoyed this film, I still have my VHS copy of the film. It is one of the few Reese Witherspoon films I truly love. Sutherland gives a fantastic performance in this. Too bad it goes unnoticed these days as people only see him as Jack Bauer.

    I also second thevoid99 endorsement of S.F.W. If you have not seen that film yet, I highly recommend you catch up with that film as well.

  5. @thevoid99 - "She was profane, she was funny, she didn't take shit from anyone." Perfect description. I also enjoyed that very much. "Plus, I also learned how to use a toothbrush as a weapon." Yeah, if you'd asked me before this film how to make a shiv out of a toothbrush I'd have assumed that the only way would be to break off the handle and hope it was sharp.

    @CS - "Sutherland gives a fantastic performance in this. Too bad it goes unnoticed these days as people only see him as Jack Bauer." Yeah, just like Reese Witherspoon, a lot of people forget that Sutherland had a career prior to his most well-known performance, too.

    @thevoid99 and CS - I've seen S.F.W. and enjoyed it. It was the first movie I ever saw Reese Witherspoon, Stephen Dorff, Jake Busey, Joey Lauren Adams, Tobey Maguire, and Amber Benson in. I just remember at the time that movie critics despised it, but I thought it was funny. I had read the original short story it was based on in Playboy as their first ever winner of their annual College Fiction Writer's contest, so I was interested in seeing the movie. I thought it had some great things to say about the nature of fame, the then infant reality TV genre, and how the media makes stars out of nobodies then quickly moves on. Sounds pretty prescient now, doesn't it? I glad to find people other than myself who not only remember the movie, but like it, too. As far as I knew, I was alone on that.