Directed by Matthew Bright. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Bookeem Woodbine. (1996, R, 100 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 25, 1996
A white-trash riff on Little Red Riding Hood, the oddly titled Freeway is a road movie that hits a dead end. While allusions to the children's story abound in the film's first 20 minutes -- its troubled teenaged heroine, wearing a crimson faux leather jacket and carrying a basket, is on her way to grandmother's house -- the narrative goes awry upon the entrance of the wolf, depicted here as a freeway serial killer who preys upon young women of questionable morals. Once li'l Red and Big Bad Wolf meet, however, Freeway takes an odd turn: It becomes a Linda Blair B-movie, a would-be feminist manifesto in which its frazzled protagonist embarks on a crime spree, striking back with adolescent fury at a world that won't leave her be. What makes Freeway watchable is the presence of Witherspoon as Vanessa Lutz, who gives a twangy, furiously funny performance here as the spunky alter ego to a much less threatening fictional character in our collective memory. The girl has got a mouth on her, whether she's politely saying, “Yes, ma'am,” out of force of habit, or letting fly a string of four-letter invectives that are as startling as they are comical. Witherspoon reminds you of Jodie Foster in her younger years -- something of a tomboy, possessing a keen intelligence -- and she makes this movie a much better experience than it otherwise should be. As the benign face of evil in the film, Sutherland is eerie, but only for the fact that he is sounding and looking more and more like his father. Otherwise, his grotesqueness -- both before and after Witherspoon pumps him full of bullets -- is not anything to write home about. Because director/screenwriter Bright borrows from Tarantino, Lynch, and others, the resulting film feels second-hand, although the fairy-tale angle could have worked had it been better focused. At least the film's discordant score (by the brilliant Danny Elfman) gives it an edge, one that Bright's direction and screenplay can't seem to fathom. All told, this Freeway goes nowhere.