Freeway (1996 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Matthew Bright|
|Produced by||Chris Hanley
|Written by||Matthew Bright|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Edited by||Maysie Hoy|
|Multicom Entertainment Group Inc.
|Distributed by||Republic Pictures|
|Release date(s)||August 23, 1996|
|Running time||102 minutes|
|Budget||$3 million (est.)|
|Box office||$295,493 (US)|
Freeway is a 1996 crime film written and directed by Matthew Bright, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon and Brooke Shields. The plot of this film resembles the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Despite being a commercial failure and having censorship problems due to graphic language and violent content, it received mostly positive reviews from critics and has developed a cult following. A sequel titled Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby was released in 1999, but was largely disregarded and released direct-to-video.
Vanessa Lutz (Witherspoon) is a poor, illiterate teenage girl living in the slums of Los Angeles. After her mother, Ramona (Amanda Plummer), 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 (Bokeem Woodbine), a local gang member, to tell him about her excursion and he gives her a gun to sell upon arriving at her destination. Minutes after Vanessa leaves Chopper, he is killed in a drive-by shooting by rival gang members. A little later, Bob Wolverton (Sutherland), a high school guidance counselor, picks her up after her car breaks down, and promises to take her to her grandmother's house.
Over the long drive, Vanessa comes to trust Bob, and confesses to him the details of her painfully dysfunctional life, including being sexually abused by her 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 reveals his true nature: He is a serial killer of young girls. He tries to kill Vanessa when she refuses to give in to him. The tables are turned, however, as Vanessa eventually pulls out her gun and shoots him several times before escaping.
After leaving the restaurant, 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 and disfigured. Vanessa is put on trial, with everyone believing that Bob is the innocent victim he claims to be since he has no criminal record, while Vanessa is a veteran of juvenile homes. Vanessa goes to prison, while Bob and his socialite wife Mimi (Shields), 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 (Alanna Ubach). Undaunted, Vanessa plots to escape and continue her journey to visit her grandmother. Remembering what her stepfather taught her about life in prison, Vanessa constructs a crude knife from a toothbrush as a weapon. The following evening, Vanessa and Mesquita are being transferred to a new maximum security prison. En route, Mesquita and Vanessa subdue and escape from the prison guards assigned to escort them, Mesquita killing one. 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. They then search Bob's home, where they find violent child pornography in the locked shed adjacent to the house. Confronted at last with what her husband really is, Bob's wife commits suicide. Arriving home at just that moment to find police cars outside his house, Bob 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 john, and drives to her grandmother's house, which is actually a trailer in a run-down trailer park. Vanessa finds her grandmother dead and Bob waiting for her with a gun. After a fierce struggle, Vanessa kills Bob by strangling him to death. Detectives Mike and Garnet arrive and approach the trailer cautiously with their guns drawn when they hear the commotion inside. Vanessa eventually exits the trailer exhausted after her struggle and the detectives enter to find Bob and Vanessa's grandmother both dead. Outside Vanessa sits in a chair, drained and near her breaking point, when she looks up to ask the detectives whether they have a cigarette. They smile and Vanessa responds in kind.
- Kiefer Sutherland as Bob Wolverton
- Reese Witherspoon as Vanessa Lutz
- Wolfgang Bodison as Detective Mike Breer
- Dan Hedaya as Detective Garnet Wallace
- Amanda Plummer as Ramona Lutz
- Brooke Shields as Mimi Wolverton
- Michael T. Weiss as Larry
- Bokeem Woodbine as Chopper Wood
- Guillermo Díaz as Flacco
- Brittany Murphy as Rhonda
- Alanna Ubach as Mesquita
- Susan Barnes as Mrs. Cullins
- Conchata Ferrell as Mrs. Sheets
- Tara Subkoff as Sharon
- Julie Araskog as Prosecutor
- Lorna Raver as Judge
- Paul Perri as 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." It received "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel and Ebert At the Movies. 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". Margaret A. McGurk wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer that "I didn't particularly want to like Freeway, but I couldn't help myself. Reese Witherspoon made me."
- The film originally received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA due to graphic language and violence. 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 rated R18+ by the Australian OFLC before the fully uncut version was refused classification. 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+ for release on VHS.
- The UK (Region 2) 18 certificate version of Freeway is 98 minutes long versus the 102 minute US (Region 1) R-rated version and thus is mistakenly thought to be cut, whereas the time difference is because of normal NTSC to PAL conversion. Seven seconds were initially trimmed from the film in the UK (said to be a shot of Mimi Wolverton discovering her husband's porn magazine collection, including a magazine titled "Cock Sucking Toddlers", and the shot of Vanessa's murdered grandmother in her trailer home), but it was passed with them intact in 2007.
- "Freeway (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- "Freeway (1996)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
- McGurk, Margaret. "'Freeway' an old but alluring ride". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- "Alternate versions for Freeway (1996)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-11-04.
- "Rewind @ www.dvdcompare.net - Freeway (1996)". dvdcompare.net. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
- Freeway at the Internet Movie Database
- Freeway at AllMovie
- Refused Classification Censorship details of Freeway.