In this forgotten film, Reese Witherspoon plays a fifteen year old girl so far from what she is known for it will spin your head.
Directors: Michael Bright
Producers: Oliver Stone, Brad Wyman And Chris Hanley
Writers: Michael Bright
Features: THX Digitally Mastered, Widescreen 1.85:1, Color, Audio Commentary By The Director And Writer Michael Bright, Theatrical Trailer, English: Dolby Digital Stereo(CC), English And Spanish Subtitles.
Vanessa Lutz...Reese Witherspoon
Bob Wolverton...Keifer Sutherland
Mrs. Wolverton...Brooke Sheilds
Detective Wallace...Dan Hedaya
Larry...Michael T. Weiss
"Freeway" a dark comedy made in 1996 is populated with characters you normally would expect to find underneath your fingernails. These are the people that would not feel uncomfortable sitting on stage during a taping of The Jerry Springer Show. Al Bundy would look sophisticated next to the denizens of this movie. The television show "Cops" depicts these perps being arrested every week, so it is quite surprising to find a sweetheart like Reese Witherspoon portraying one of them, Vannessa Lutz, a fifteen year old, street-wise girl with a chip on her shoulder. If someone had described the plot to me I would have guessed that Zalman King would have had to be the director and writer as he has been the reigning king of sleaze for over thirty years. In most of these he was an actor, but he finally put his vision to under the radar films like "Full Moon Junction" and his most commercially successful "Wild Orchid." Now he has been supplanted by Michael Bright who both directs and writes this travelogue of trash and terror that is of all things loosely based on the Red Riding Hood fairy tale.
"Freeway" opens in a run down special needs class in a California high school where a teacher is trying to prod Vanessa Lutz into recognizing the word "cat" on the blackboard. Ultimately succeeding in pronouncing the word, Vanessa turns to her tall, black boyfriend Chopper(Bokeem Woodbine) and plants a long wet kiss on his face. After school Vanessa rides with Chopper on his bicycle to the motel where her family lives only to find her mother, Ramona(Amanda Plummer), soliciting on the street. Vanessa gives her a chastising, but her mother stays outside as Vanessa goes inside past her step-father, Larry(Michael T. Weiss) at the door. Sitting on the sofa, Vanessa is soon being felt up by Larry as he inhales on a crack pipe. Vanessa keeps knocking his hands away as she is trying to watch the newscast about a serial killer who murders young women on the I-5 Freeway. Outside Vanessa's mother has been busted by an undercover cop whose backup enters the motel room to find Larry and Vanessa, still clothed, in bed together. The police arrest Larry for drug possesion and a female cop tells Vanessa that Child Protective Services has already been called. When the caretaker arrives Vanessa uses some leg irons the police forgot, to shackle her to a chair. Vanessa steals the caretaker's car after picking up a basket of knickknacks from her dresser and drives onto the freeway to find her grandmother who lives in a trailer park that she has found the address to on the back of an old photograph.
The Reese Witherspoon in "Freeway" is far removed from the sweet young woman that has recently captivated America's heart in movies like "Legally Blonde" and "Home Sweet Alabama." Witherspoon gives Vanessa Lutz a sociolphathic craze that at times verges on dementia. She can appear to be the picture of gentility, but when riled can be a Tazmanian Devil. Vanessa Lutz is every mother's nightmare and every man's dream. This girl can cuss like a sailor, chug a beer, and smoke a cigarette while kicking ass. This performance by Reese Witherspoon is so not Reese Witherspoon that she should have gotten an Oscar for her acting in 1996. Witherspoon so overwhelms her role that the viewer will no longer be able to think of her in her current manifestation of the girl next door in the same way anymore.
From the opening credits that are cartoon panels of some young teen-age girls wearing skimpy clothing being chased by a wolf it is made clear that "Freeway" is not an ordinary movie. The camera zooms in on the breasts and bottoms of the cartoon girls while panning to a drooling wolf's mouth. This is first time director Michael Bright's interpretation of Red Riding Hood told against an urban background. In the audio commentary Bright talks about his love of cotton panties as the opening cartoon credits roll. Bright talks about how he was having a hard time getting people for his movie, but then Oliver Stone stepped in after somehow getting hold of his script. With Stone producing, Keifer Southerland signed on and then a nineteen year old Reese Witherspoon was added. Michael T. Weiss of televison's "Pretender" was next with Amanda Plummer following.
In the audio commentary, Bright espouses on the movie and his own demented character starts to come out. He loves to talk about women's hair and that he would have loved all the women in the movie to have ponytails like Reese Witherspoon's character. In one scene Vanessa's ponytail is cut off, but Bright said he had it grow back quicker than normal. He gushes over Brooke Shields and how tall she is. Bright proudly states that he used half the film's clothing budget to personally buy four outfits for her scenes in the movie and is happy to point out to the viewer the different clothing as it appears. When Vanessa is held in a women's prison ward, Bright is ecstatic. Brittany Murphy plays Rhonda, a female inmate with a scarred face that causes Bright to exclaim, "I think scars look great on a woman, take Marla Hanson, for instance, she looks great!" In the eighties Marla Hanson, who was a part time model and aspiring film actress, had her face slashed by a stalker with a razor. Bright then reveals how he has always loved tough Chicano girls. In high school he would admire them from afar as everyone kept to segregated groups. Then he starts talking about how he did everyone's hair in the movie, but adds "Kiefer did his own." Due to Michael Bright's extremeness of character the audio commentary is almost as good as the movie itself.
In the July 14, 2003 issue of People magazine, which has Reese Witherspoon on the cover and a long feature on her inside, a was mistake made. On page 102 there are photographs of Reese Witherspoon from different movies that she has made in her short film career, but the photograph for "Freeway" is of Tara Subkoff not Witherspoon. Subkoff played Sharon a friend of Vanessa's that used crutches and wore such sheer shorts that nothing was left to the imagination. I guess you can't blame the People researchers for not wanting to do a thorough job on this film.
"Freeway" is a masterpiece of demented filmmaking and ranks way above anything Roger Corman has ever directed or produced. Michael Bright is a new star on the horizon, but due to the nature of his fascinations his films may never make their way to "civilized" society. Will anybody let him loose with a film budget again--check out "Freeway 2: Confessions Of A Trick Baby" starring Natasha Lyonne coming to DVD soon.
I would give this film five out of five stars.