Freeway (1996) is a satirical, darkly comic thriller film starring Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon and Brooke Shields, and written and directed by Matthew Bright.
The plot of this film has a resemblance of the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood.
Vanessa Lutz is a poor, illiterate teenage girl living in the slums of Los Angeles. After her mother, Ramona, is arrested in a prostitution sting, she runs away with a stolen car from her social worker guardian to stay with her grandmother in Stockton. Along the way, Vanessa stops to see her boyfriend and classmate Chopper Wood, a local gang member to tell him about her excursion and he gives her a gun for protection. Minutes after Vanessa leaves Chopper, he is killed in a drive-by shooting by rival gang members. A little later, Bob Wolverton, a serial killer and rapist known as "the I-5 killer", picks her up after her car breaks down, and promises to take her to her grandmother's house. (The scenes that take place on the northbound I-5 freeway were filmed on Interstate 5.)
Over the long drive, Bob manipulates Vanessa into confessing to him the details of her painfully dysfunctional life, including a prostitute mother and a sexually abusive stepfather. (At one point, Vanessa shows Bob a photo she keeps in her wallet of her biological father. The photo used is actually a picture of mass murderer Richard Speck.) That evening, Bob eventually reveals his true nature and tries to kill Vanessa when she refuses to talk to him. The tables are turned, however, as Vanessa eventually pulls out her gun and shoots him several times before escaping.
Vanessa is quickly arrested and questioned by two detectives, named Mike and Garnet, who write her off as a carjacker, even though she insists Bob had tried to kill her and had told her about his other murders. Bob survives, but the bullet wounds have left him severely handicapped, costing him an eye and disfiguring his face. Vanessa is put on trial, with everyone believing (at first) that Bob is the innocent victim he claims to be since he has no police record, while Vanessa has a large one for various offenses ranging from shoplifting, to assault and battery. Vanessa goes to prison, while Bob and his socialite wife Mimi, who knows nothing of his crimes, are treated like heroes.
Scared at first, Vanessa eventually makes friends in prison, including a heroin-addicted lesbian named Rhonda (Brittany Murphy), and a brutal Hispanic gang leader, named Mesquita. Undaunted, Vanessa plots to escape and continue her journey to visit her grandmother. With a little of Rhonda's help, Vanessa constructs a crude knife from a toothbrush as a weapon. The following evening, while Vanessa and Mesquita are being transferred to a new maximum security prison, Mesquita helps Vanessa with her escape by subduing and killing the prison guards assigned to escort them. After their escape, Vanessa and Mesquita part ways as Mesquita goes off to be reunited with her gang, and Vanessa continues her journey to her grandmother's house.
Meanwhile, detectives Mike and Garnet reexamine the evidence, and begin to suspect that Vanessa was telling the truth about Bob Wolverton being a serial killer. They then search Wolverton's home, where they find violent pornography in the locked shed adjacent to the house. Confronted at last with what her husband really is, Wolverton's wife commits suicide, after mumbling disbelief that he had hidden child pornography from her. Arriving home at just that moment to find police cars outside his house, Wolverton panics and flees to Vanessa's grandmother's house. (In his earlier encounter with Vanessa, he had apparently obtained a photo of the grandmother, with her address written on the back.)
While posing as a prostitute, Vanessa steals a car from a prospective customer, and drives to her grandmother's house, which is actually a trailer in a run-down trailer park (lacking the reed basket that she had with her earlier in the story). Vanessa finds her grandmother dead and Wolverton waiting for her with a gun. After a vicious struggle, Vanessa kills Wolverton by strangling him to death. Detectives Mike and Garnet arrive and seemingly wait outside during the struggle. They eventually enter the trailer to find Wolverton and Vanessa's grandmother both dead, and an exhausted and emotionaly broken Vanessa beside herself who puts up her hands and surrenders to the two detectives. However, the detectives appear to exonerate Vanessa when they both begin laughing, and Vanessa follows suit.
Kiefer Sutherland – Bob Wolverton
Reese Witherspoon – Vanessa Lutz
Wolfgang Bodison – Detective Mike Breer
Dan Hedaya – Detective Garnet Wallace
Amanda Plummer – Ramona Lutz
Brooke Shields – Mimi Wolverton
Michael T. Weiss – Larry
Bokeem Woodbine – Chopper Wood
Guillermo Díaz – Flacco
Brittany Murphy – Rhonda
Alanna Ubach – Mesquita
Susan Barnes – Mrs. Cullins
Conchata Ferrell – Mrs. Sheets
Tara Subkoff – Sharon
Julie Araskog – Prosecutor
Lorna Raver – Judge
Paul Perri – Cop #1
The film was received positively by most critics, who lauded the film's hard-edged satire and performances.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave Freeway three and a half stars out of four and stated, "like it or hate it (or both), you have to admire its skill, and the over-the-top virtuosity of Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland."
Joe Baltake of the Sacramento Bee gave Freeway four stars out of four and called it "a wild, audacious drive-in attraction that takes the 'high' from 'highbrow' and the 'low' from 'lowdown' and shakes them up".
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave Freeway four stars out of four and said that it was "rude in the way the truth is rude -- only funnier".
It received "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel & Ebert. Ebert stated that Witherspoon's performance was "great" and said "Kiefer Sutherland balances it with a truly inspired villain". He also said how the film was "filled with fine acting". He ended by describing it as "compulsively watchable" and noted that Witherspoon's performance promised an exciting career. Gene Siskel agreed completely with Ebert and commented on how the performances it hits the right notes. The only flaw they noted about the film was that it was "too cute" sometimes, but stated that it was a "good film".
The film originally received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA due to graphic language. It was trimmed to obtain an R rating, with the censored version being released theatrically and on VHS/DVD.
The US R-rated version of Freeway was initially refused classification by the Australian OFLC. Two scenes were removed - explicit sexually abusive dialogue between Bob and Vanessa during the car trip on the I-5, and a cutaway shot of Vanessa's dead grandmother towards the end of the film - before the film was classified R18+.
The UK (Region-2) 18 certificate version of Freeway is only 98 minutes long versus the 102 minute US (Region-1) R-rated version.
1.^ "Freeway". IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116361/. Retrieved 2008-11-30.