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DVD Review: Freeway
Posted by O. R. Polk, Jr. on Aug 21, 2002, 00:08


Written and directed by Matthew Bright

Released by Artisan Entertainment and Republic Pictures

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Keifer Sutherland, Dan Hedaya, Wolfgang Bodison, Amanda Plummer, Michael T. Weiss, Brooke Shields, and Bokeem Woodbine

Rated R, 102 min.

What do you get when you combine every B-movie cliché with every exploitation movie device and toss in a children’s fairy tale for good measure? I’m not one hundred percent sure, but writer/director Matthew Bright offers us the best possible answer right now with his take, Freeway, an updated retelling of the Brothers Grimm 1812 fable, Little Red Riding Hood.

But don’t let the “fairy tale” thing scare you away. While Bright does stay on the path and remains somewhat true to his source material (the original tale is barely two pages long), he takes MANY liberties with it and lengthens it, keeping you thoroughly engrossed throughout. So involved, you soon forget about the Little Red Riding Hood premise altogether.

This is Bright’s directorial debut and his obvious talent aside, it feels as if he wrote it thinking it may be his last chance to direct. He shoehorns in every genre possible. Bright is equal parts Quentin Tarantino, Sam Peckinpah and Russ Meyer (if that’s possible or even logical). He pulls something, it seems, from each of these maverick filmmakers and somehow manages to sneak in all of his (and probably your) cinematic guilty pleasures. Freeway has serial killers, a women’s prison that includes all the freaky girl-on girl sex and violence one can imagine, vicious female vigilantes that don’t take no shit and black humor so dead on you almost forget that this feature is intended to be satire. Fans of movies such as Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Jack Hill’s Switchblade Sisters or Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! will have plenty of guns, blood, sadistic murder and juvenile crime to pour over as Freeway runs its 102 minute course.

The Movie:

The anti-hero of our tale is Vanessa Lutz, whom we’ll call Red Vanessa. Vanessa is a barely literate teenager who lives with her prostitute mom (Amanda Plummer) and drug addicted stepfather (Michael T. Weiss) in Los Angeles. When Vanessa’s mother is arrested for soliciting right outside of their dysfunctional home, her Jerry Springer-like household is ripped apart at the seams and Vanessa, picnic basket in hand, sets off to live with her dear old grandmother whom she’s never met in Stockton, Ca. Vanessa says her last good-byes to her black boyfriend, Chopper (Bokeem Woodbine) and diligently rolls her jalopy onto the I-5 expressway. It doesn’t take long before Vanessa’s streak of bad luck continues and her beat-up automobile rolls to a smoky, carbon monoxide-filled halt. Luckily for Vanessa, the tweed jacketed Bob Wolverton (Keifer Sutherland) happens by and offers her a lift. Bob also offers to listen to Vanessa about her problems and as a therapist in his daily work, attempts to help her work through them by talking. But soon things get ugly and Big Bad Bob Wolverton is revealed to be the I-5 slasher, a serial killer who has been on the prowl and preying on innocent young girls just like Vanessa as of late. Vanessa, ever resourceful, gets out of this situation, but not before leaving Bob for dead and ending up in an all-girl’s detention center to await trial. But Vanessa was just defending herself, right? Will anyone believe trailer-trash Vanessa when she tells them that corduroy cool Bob is actually the I-5 killer? And is Bob satisfied with Vanessa simply going to jail after seriously disfiguring him? All of these questions and more are to be answered in FREEWAY!

But seriously…Freeway is a ton of fun. And believe it or not, I haven’t even come close to spoiling the movie for you, despite my tidy synopsis above.

The DVD:

Freeway is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There isn’t really much in the way of extras on this disc. There’s a theatrical trailer (presented in full screen, even though it’s obvious it was a “theatrical trailer” so it should be in widescreen), which became standard years ago, so it can’t really be considered a “special feature”. One thing that I did find surprising is that this disc contains a “Director’s Narration” track, long before such things were commonplace or actually even thought possible. What’s more surprising is why would anyone want to hear what a first-time director has to say anyway? But thank God it’s there! It’s wacky as hell. Matthew Bright comes off just as demented, lecherous and perverted as the characters he has written. Before the opening credits are even done, he tells us how Freeway is “a celebration of girls” and about “his love for white cotton underwear.” That’s just insane. At one point, Amanda Plummer’s hooker character tells a trick, “I bet you like having your wiener sucked.” And immediately after, Bright chimes in LOUDLY, “You bet’cha!” You don’t get that with Spike Lee or Scorsese, that’s for sure. Later, there’s a kiss between Witherspoon’s Vanessa and Woodbine’s Chopper and Bright straight-up belly laughs at the notion that Reese might catch some heat back home down south for doing that scene. An empathetic director he is not. He’s more like KC or Artie from Howard Stern with a camera.


One of the most fun things about Freeway is how just about every actor plays against type. If you’re like most of the world, you know Reese Witherspoon from movies like Fear, Cruel Intentions and more recently Legally Blonde. This is NOT that Reese Witherspoon. This is more the Reese from Election. Not character-wise, but acting-wise. She’s just awesome. When I say that Red Vanessa is resourceful…well, that’s an understatement. This Red Riding Hood is far from timid and doesn’t need some woodsman to come save her and let’s just leave it at that. Anyone who’s seen The Pretender will not even recognize Michael T. Weiss’ tattooed stepdad character lounging around watching Purple Passion get it on with Sean Michaels in a porno on television in the middle of the day right in front of his stepdaughter. Keifer Sutherland, as always, is just evil as the villain. He seems to excel there. (check the mad doctor in The Matrix special effects team’s dry run, Dark City) A face you do not expect to see is Brooke Shields as Wolverton’s faithful wife. You’ll especially enjoy what happens to this character. Trust me, it’s worth the price of rental or purchase alone. Upon one viewing you’ll see why this became such a cult classic in the San Francisco area when it was released in 1996.

Final Thoughts:

If you’re a fan of indie film, you’ll like Freeway. Because of Oliver Stone producing, Bright landed a cast that has to be the envy of any other first time director. Freeway may have been made on the cheap or more suited to a drive-in screen or USA’s late “Up All Night” program, but make no mistake, it’s deliciously trashy and will also make you wish all B-movies ended up this good.


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