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Mar 10, 2008

Freeway 1996

Written and directed by: Matthew Bright

The Players: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Brooke Shields, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Michael T. Weiss.

About ten years ago, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine retooled some fairytales and called the resultant musical Into The Woods. One of the tales explored was Red Riding Hood. Freeway is the best exploration of that fable since the Sondheim/Lapine big bad wolf soft-shoe shuffles across the stage with his flaccid phallus bobbing in time to the music.

To start with, this is a very funny movie in an utterly politically uncorrect way. Humour and political correctness have never shared a joint anyway. This film seduces us into laughing at the most hideous scenes and scenarios, partly because we're seeing them through the eyes and mind of someone who finds them funny.

Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) is a transplanted Texan white trash teenager living in California with her junkie/prostitute mother Amanda Plummer and her lecherous and hilariously loony step-dad (Michael T. Weiss looking and acting very unlike his character Jarrod in The Pretender). Mum and step-dad are arrested by some realistically unsympathetic police, Vanessa legcuffs her social worker to a bed and takes off with her basket of belongings to go to live with her Grandmother in Stockton California.

Vanessa's bright but not educated and very naive. We first see her trying hard to read “The cat drinks milk” from a blackboard at school. But she has her own sense of values, a fearlessness and a ferocious independence that ultimately serves her much better than does society or most of the individuals she meets.

The worst of these is Bob Wolverton, a boys school counsellor she meets when her car breaks down. Bob uses his training to manipulate Vanessa psychologically until she realises that he's a notorious serial killer. As in the original, unexpurgated Grimms fairytale, Vanessa rescues herself, shooting and disfiguring Bob until his physical appearance matches his personality. She's arrested and tried and convicted for shooting and robbing him.

Ultimately she escapes and has her ultimate showdown with Bob at Grandmother's trailer park home but along the way there are twists and turns and surprises to keep the audience amazed.

Reese Witherspoon as Vanessa is amazing. She reminds me of Candace Rialson who played similar roles in 1970s Roger Corman movies. She has big baby blue eyes and a stare-you-in-the-eye forthrightness that turns Vanessa into one of the coolest female heroes in recent movies. She knows what evil is, what to do about it, and knows the difference between true evil and weakness of character.

The smaller roles are filled with familiar faces. Kiefer Sutherland is chilling as Bob, before and after the metamorphosis. Brooke Shields plays Bob's monstrously self-serving wife, Dan Hedaya is one of the cops who gradually discovers that Vanessa's not the monster of the piece, Bokeem Woodbine is charismatic as Vanessa's tragic boyfriend Chopper Wood(sic).

This film's not for everyone. There's violence and ugliness and tragedy and heroics and a lot of blood. But it is a valid and interesting interpretation of the original story and stays truer to it than the Sondheim/Lapine version did.


Cerpts said...

It just so happens that, only a mere few days after you posted this review of FREEWAY, a friend brought up the SAME FILM independently. . .so naturally I just ordered the thing online. It was only $9.99 and I've never seen it but I figured what the hey. Sounds good and everything else I've read about it sounded good too. And since I was ALREADY going to order THE SLIME PEOPLE, I might as well get TWO dvds for one shipping cost, right????

Of course, I needn't bring up the fact that, if I don't like FREEWAY, I'm billing both you and my friend for half the cost of the DVD!!! I play the sap for nobody, see!!!

Just a sec. . .where are my meds. . .

Terry Frost said...

Let me know what you think about Freeway. I think it's Reese Witherspoon's best flick, with Election coming second. (Those Legally Blonde flicks really kicked her indie street cred into the oubliette.)

Cerpts said...

Will do. It should arrive next week.

Cerpts said...

I just saw FREEWAY and I have to admit it was great (so you don't owe me money for the DVD). I've never been a fan of Greasy Reesey but I must admit that she was fantastic in the role. I also have to agree with you that the film was hilarious. I especially love the courtroom scenes when Kiefer Sutherland arrives completely disfigured and Reese can't keep herself from laughing. Priceless!