Freeway is lurid, fun, and loves to mock its own lowlife characters. There's a streak of cruelty here that's nasty but hilarious. Over the top, but still recognisably real, it pokes fun at what in real life is tragedy: the poor, the stupid and the exploited.
The opening credits show R. Crumb style cartoons of a sexy Red Riding Hood being menaced by a pervy wolf, and the story that follows is a modern version of the Red Riding Hood tale. Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) is a white trash teen, whose mother is a whore, and whose stepdad molests her. She decides to visit her granny, hoping to live with her. Hitchhiking, Vanessa is picked up by Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), who may be the serial killer whose exploits are being reported on the car radio. Reese Witherspoon is heartbreaking and funny as Vanessa, while Keifer Sutherland does a good mix of comforting and dodgy as the potential serial killer. Their dialogue together is excellent: witty, sarcastic, and creatively foul, they damn themselves out of their own mouths. Both the ignorant Vanessa and the educated but judgemental Bob are idiots in their own ways, but at least Vanessa has the excuse of being a victim of her upbringing. Both characters are broadly drawn, but believable.
The story moves forward fast, as the relationship between Vanessa and Bob develops into a power struggle. About half way in, there's a feeling that the tale has reached its peak, the two characters have exhausted each other. But still the film goes on, with Vanessa thrown in prison. This is amusing, but an exploitation cliché, and the breakout, with a tough Spanish girl, is just silly. Vanessa finally does get to Granny's, and the fairy tale ending seems about to appear...
The first half of Freeway is great, an effective example of how a fairy tale can inspire a modern movie. The second half is lacking, and while not a classic, Freeway is still a lot of fun, a million times better than the usual action road movie, and will especially appeal to those who like their humour black and misanthropic. 7/10
Note on the UK Region 2/ US Region 1 DVDs:
The Region 2 DVD is full screen, after letterboxed opening credits. The film has been cut by seven seconds by the BBFC. The Region 1 US DVD is also cut, but differently: the funny, creative swearing that is the film's hallmark has been toned down. Because of this, the UK disc is probably the better choice, although the US one is at least letterboxed. Funny how such a fun, jolly little film manages to upset censors so much.
Adrian Horrocks (March 2005)
Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby
A-Z of Film Reviews