Retro Review: ‘Freeway’
For the past couple of years one of the trends in Hollywood has been the grim and gritty rebooting of old stories. In this regard it would seem writer/director Matthew Bright was ahead of the curb in 1996 when he gave us a grim and gritty take on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. This film, Freeway, fit nicely with the hip indie movie boom of the 90’s and showed the world that up and coming actress Reese Witherspoon was quite capable of leading a film.
Coming from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, teenager Vanessa finds herself alone when her mother and stepfather are arrested once again. Rather than go back into the foster system Vanessa takes on to find a grandmother up north who she has never met before. Along the way she gets a lift from the square but polite Bob. During their trip together, Bob reveals his true colors that he is a notorious serial killer who has been preying on young women. During their struggle Vanessa shoots him multiple times, though he manages to pull through, though left horribly disfigured. He convinces the authorities that she in fact carjacked him sending Vanessa to prison. The detectives on the case discover crucial evidence which prove that the young woman was telling the truth about Bob’s murderous nature. As they close in on Bob, she escapes prison and makes her way to grandmother’s house only to find Bob there waiting for her.
When you are doing a gritty real world take on a fairy tale there is something inherently funny about that. Luckily Mark Bright’s script and direction embraces the dark humor of the situation. From the oddly chipper and good-humored prison warden to the stumbling pair of detectives; the humor in Freeway is a little surreal and unexpected which makes it even better. Considering how heavy this movie had the potential to be this sense of humor is absolutely welcome. A large portion of this film is based on the fact that a teen girl from a low socio-economic background with a juvie record is not going to be taken seriously by a lot of people, especially those in authority. She is seen by everyone as the no-good thug who tried to kill an honest family man from the suburbs who was only trying to help her. Of course Vanessa being who she is, she does not take it lying down. In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes a cop who makes a sexist remark to her during interrogation is met with a vicious beatdown from her.
Even at a young age Reese Witherspoon displays that movie star charm which has made her a popular box office draw. The character of Vanessa could have easily been hated by audiences as a loudmouth brat, but Witherspoon is so charming that you can not help but root for her. She has the perfect chops as a young girl who is in over her head but approaches it with a stiff-upper lip and razor sharp street smarts. She is confident and sure of herself and gives no cares about what anyone else does. As a message to all casting directors out there, if you need to cast a villain you should consider Kiefer Sutherland. Freeway is a perfect showcase to any doubters as to why the Lost Boys star is so good and being a baddie. He plays Bob as stand-offish but charming enough to earn the trust of a naïve teenage girl. With his words he expertly dissects her mentally and breaks her down and manipulate his potential victim. However, when he shows his true colors Sutherland is nothing short of gleefully terrifying.
You may not have ever thought you wanted a realistic take on Little Red Riding Hood, but Freeway is definitely something you need to see. While it did not do much box office business when it was released, the movie was praised by critics and found a small audience which really dug it. This is a truly enjoyable flick and more people would benefit from watching it.