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Freeway film review

About ten years ago, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine retooled some fairytales and called the resultant musical Into The Woods. One of the tales explored was Red Riding Hood. Freeway’s the best exploration of that fable since the Sondheim/Lapine wolf soft-shoe shuffles across the stage with a flaccid phallus bobbing in time to the music.

To start with, this is a very funny movie in an utterly politically uncorrect way. Humour and political correctness have never shared a joint anyway. This film seduces us into laughing at the most hideous scenes and scenarios, partly because we’re seeing them through the eyes and mind of someone who finds them funny.

Movie Poster, Freeway

Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) is a transplanted Texan white trash teenager living in California with her junkie/prostitute mother Amanda Plummer and her lecherous and hilariously loony step-dad (Michael T. Weiss looking and acting very unlike The Pretender). Mum and step-dad are arrested by some realistically unsympathetic police, Vanessa legcuffs her social worker to a bed and takes off with her basket of belongings to go to live with her Grandmother in Stockton California.

Vanessa’s not bright. We first see her trying hard to read "The cat drinks milk" from a blackboard at school. But she has her own sense of values, a fearlessness and a ferocious independence that ultimately serves her much better than does society or most of the individuals she meets.

The worst of these is Bob Wolverton, a boys school counsellor she meets when her car breaks down. Bob uses his training to manipulate Vanessa in various ways until she realises that he’s a notorious serial killer.

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As in the original, unexpurgated Grimms fairytale, Vanessa rescues herself, shooting and disfiguring Bob until his physical appearance matches his personality. She’s arrested and tried and convicted for shooting and robbing Bob.

Ultimately she escapes and has her ultimate showdown with Bob at Grandmother’s trailer park home but along the way there are twists and turns and surprises to keep the audience amazed.

Reese Witherspoon as Vanessa is amazing. She reminds me of Candace Rialson who played similar roles in 1970s Roger Corman movies. She has big baby blue eyes and a stare-you-in-the-eye forthrightness that turns Vanessa into one of the coolest female heroes in recent movies. She knows what evil is, what to do about it, and knows the difference between true evil and weakness of character.

The smaller roles are filled with familiar faces. Kiefer Sutherland is chilling as Bob, before and after the metamorphosis. Brooke Shields plays Bob’s monstrously self-serving wife, Dan Hedaya is one of the cops who gradually discovers that Vanessa’s not the monster of the piece, Bokeem Woodbine is charismatic as Vanessa’s tragic boyfriend Chopper Wood(sic).

This film’s not for everyone. There’s violence and ugliness and tragedy and heroics and a lot of blood. But it is a valid and interesting interpretation of the original story and stays truer to it than the Sondheim/Lapine version.

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Terry Frost, December 1997

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Just the facts:

Title: Freeway (1996) R
Written by: Matthew Bright
Directed by: Matthew Bright
Produced by: Marc Ezralow; Adam J. Merims; Oliver Stone; Dan Halsted; Ricahrd Autowski; Brad Wyman, Chris Hanley
Edited by: Maysie Hoy
Director of Photography: John Thomas

Official website: www.globe.com.au
The Players: Keifer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Brooke Shields, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Michael T. Weiss
For session times of current films, use the cinema listings on the Movie links page. For scheduled release dates, see the coming attractions section.
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