Teenage Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) hasn't had the best start, what with her father missing from early in her life, her mother (Amanda Plummer) an enthusiastic prostitute and even more enthusiastic drug addict, her stepfather (Michael T. Weiss) with the same habit and making moves to molest Vanessa if he can, and her education suffering with all this stressful environment she does her best to rise above. At least she has a boyfriend, Chopper (Bokeem Woodbine), who loves her and sticks by her, and she might just have a chance at making something of herself if she can beat the system and lack of social standing she has been landed with. But that might be easier said than done, especially with so much danger around...
Writer and director Matthew Bright might just have had one great film in him, but it was not often identified as such. He did direct again, but after Tiptoes, one of the worst-received movies of all time among the small few who saw it, he fell off the radar and it seemed nobody would hire him again, which was a pity as no matter how awful and misguided that film was, it did represent a talent willing to take chances, which he assuredly did when producer Oliver Stone got hold of his script for Freeway and demanded he take the helm in spite of being totally untested in that area. He already had one cult classic under his belt with the screenplay for Forbidden Zone, but that was not the sort of effort that ended up as dismissed as this.
Which was odd since it had a cast that if they were not already high profile at the time of Freeway's release, then the fresher faces would soon become very well-known indeed. Reese Witherspoon was the potential breakout star, making the move from juvenile roles to more grown-up territory, though she would have to wait for Election before the audience really sat up and took notice. She had the reputation of being a hardheaded, no bullshit kind of professional actress who would never be satisfied until she had the world at her feet, and that translated into a particular strain of determined characters of various types, but perhaps nobody was as formidable as Vanessa when it came to getting what she wanted.
With so many famous faces in that cast list, this was almost an ensemble piece, and they were each firing on all cylinders as if relishing the opportunity Bright gave them in such distinctive roles. Kiefer Sutherland was the outwardly respectable villain, in effect the Big, Bad Wolf (as the cartoon sketched title sequence made plain) as this was a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood where she didn't need the intervention of a strapping woodcutter, she was going to take care of business by herself. Bright called his film a tribute to girls, and it was apparent he respected Vanessa and females like her very much, not sweetness and light by any means but taken advantage of by circumstances often beyond their control and Vanessa represented every one of them who was not going to take it anymore and stand up for themselves.
Thanks to her parents getting arrested, she makes up her mind to go and live with her grandmother, but the problem is that she has to get there, so she steals the car of her temporary guardian and heads off on the, yes, freeway - until the vehicle breaks down. In an item of plot foreshadowing, we discover on TV there is a serial killer on the loose, and when Vanessa is picked up by ostensible Good Samaritan Sutherland, the fact that he is called Bob Wolverton and he is introduced with a sinister sting of Danny Elfman's score confirms our suspicions that our girl is in peril. We can perceive that she will survive, but the how and why are riveting and lead into an extended plotline where she is entirely misinterpreted because of her age, gender and social position, which only spurs her on to more extreme actions to get some form of justice and peace of mind. With frequent jolts, ranging from shocking imagery and disturbing dialogue to sudden, unexpected laughs of dark humour, Freeway was undoubtedly not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you could stand it, and more importantly understand why Vanessa was worth cheering for, then you'd have a blast.
American writer and director of trashy projects. He scripted films for Richard Elfman: cult favourite Forbidden Zone, Shrunken Heads and Revenant; there was also Guncrazy and, bizarrely, TV movie After Diff'rent Strokes: When the Laughter Stopped. As a director, he gained a following with Freeway, Confessions of a Trickbaby, true-life crime movie Ted Bundy and the ill-judged Tiptoes, which was taken out of his hands by the producers.