Freeway (1996 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byMatthew Bright
Written byMatthew Bright
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Thomas
Edited byMaysie Hoy
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release dates
  • June 8, 1996 (1996-06-08) (HBO)
  • August 23, 1996 (1996-08-23) (Theatrical)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million (est.)[2]
Box office$295,493 (US)[2]

Freeway is a 1996 American black comedy crime film written and directed by Matthew Bright and produced by Oliver Stone. It stars Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon and Brooke Shields. The film's plot is a dark take on the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood".[3]

The film received favorable reviews, but did poorly at the box office.


Vanessa Lutz is an illiterate teenager living south of Los Angeles. Her mother, Ramona, is arrested in a prostitution sting, and her stepfather, Larry, is taken in on drug and child abuse charges. Social worker Mrs. Sheets comes to take Vanessa away, but she handcuffs the social worker to a bed and runs away.

Taking Mrs. Sheets' run-down car, Vanessa plans to go live with her grandmother in Stockton. Along the way, she stops to see her boyfriend Chopper Wood, a local gang member, to tell him about her trip. He gives her a gun to sell upon arriving at her destination. Minutes after Vanessa leaves, he is killed in a drive-by shooting. Later, Bob Wolverton, a counselor at a school for boys with emotional problems, picks her up on the side of the highway when the car breaks down. He offers to take her as far as L.A., where he is headed.

Over the long drive, Vanessa comes to trust Bob, and confesses to him the details of her painfully dysfunctional life, including sexual abuse by her stepfather and foster parents. At one point, Vanessa shows Bob a photo she keeps in her wallet of her biological father (whose picture, unbeknownst to her, is of mass murderer Richard Speck).

That evening, Bob attacks Vanessa, revealing he is the "I-5 Killer". She turns the tables on him, however, and shoots him several times before escaping. Going to a local restaurant, her blood-stained appearance prompts the owners to call 9-1-1. As she leaves the restaurant, Vanessa is arrested and questioned by police detectives, Mike Breer and Garnet Wallace, who write her off as a carjacker, even though she insists Bob had tried to kill her and had told her about his crimes.

Bob survives, but the bullet wounds have left him severely handicapped and facially disfigured. Vanessa is put on trial; Bob is portrayed as an innocent victim with no criminal record, whereas Vanessa has a long string of prior offenses. Vanessa goes to prison, while Bob and his socialite wife Mimi, who knows nothing of his crimes, are treated like heroes.

Initially scared, Vanessa makes friends in prison that include heroin-addicted lesbian Rhonda and Mesquita, a brutal Hispanic gang leader. Vanessa plots to escape to her grandmother's house and fashions a shiv from a toothbrush, a skill she had learned from her stepfather. During their transport to a new maximum security prison, Vanessa and Mesquita escape after killing a security guard, and they go their separate ways.

Re-examining evidence, the detectives realize Vanessa was telling the truth. They search Bob's home and find violent child pornography and human remains in a storage shed. Horrified, Mimi commits suicide. Evading the police at his home, Bob travels to Vanessa's grandmother's trailer, using the address written on a picture Vanessa had showed him.

Posing as a prostitute, Vanessa steals a car from a prospective john, driving to the trailer. She finds Bob in bed wearing her grandmother's nightgown and nightcap with the covers pulled up to his nose. He reveals himself and Vanessa sees her grandmother's dead body on the floor. A struggle ensues, culminating in her strangling him. Breer and Wallace arrive, finding the bodies of Bob and Vanessa's grandmother. Outside, Vanessa sits in a chair in a daze, then asks the detectives if they have a cigarette. They all smile and laugh.



Freeway premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 1996 where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 77% based on 43 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "A modern update on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Freeway is an audacious black comedy with a star-making performance from the young Reese Witherspoon."[5] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film had a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[6]

Critics 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."[7] It received "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel and Ebert At the Movies.[8] 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".[9] 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."[10]


A sequel titled Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby was released in 1999, but was largely disregarded[clarification needed] and released direct-to-video.[citation needed]


  1. ^ ""Freeway", a H.B.O. exclusive movie!". June 12, 1996. Retrieved February 7, 2017 – via Google Groups.
  2. ^ a b "Freeway (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  3. ^ Rabin, Nathan (January 24, 2013). "Reese Witherspoon is a badass Little Red Riding Hood in the sordid, sleazy Freeway". The A.V. Club. Chicago, Illinois: Onion, Inc. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  4. ^ News, Deseret (January 26, 1996). "AVALANCHE OF STARS AT SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL". Deseret News. Retrieved March 23, 2020. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  5. ^ Freeway (1996), retrieved March 7, 2021
  6. ^ Freeway, retrieved March 23, 2020
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Freeway movie review & film summary (1997) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  8. ^ "The Chamber, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Looking for Richard, Freeway, 1996 – Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews". Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  9. ^ "MovieClub || Review - It's Little Wild Riding Hood". February 9, 2002. Archived from the original on February 9, 2002. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  10. ^ McGurk, Margaret A. (October 25, 1996). "'Freeway' an old but alluring ride". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Cincinnati, Ohio: Gannett Company.

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