Freeway (1996 film)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The plot of this film resembles the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood.
Vanessa Lutz is a poor, illiterate teenage girl living in the slums of Los Angeles. After her mother, Ramona, 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, 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, a serial killer and rapist known as "the I-5 killer", picks her up after her car breaks down, and promises to take her to her grandmother's house. (The scenes that take place on the northbound I-5 freeway were filmed on Interstate 5.)
Over the long drive, Bob manipulates Vanessa into confessing to him the details of her painfully dysfunctional life, including a prostitute mother and a sexually abusive 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 eventually reveals his true nature and 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.
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, costing him an eye and disfiguring his face. Vanessa is put on trial, with everyone believing (at first) 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, 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 and a brutal Hispanic gang leader named Mesquita. 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 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 about Bob being a serial killer. 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 (lacking the wicker basket that she had with her earlier in the story). 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 apparently drained and near breaking point when she looks up to ask the detective, still stunned by what they have witnessed inside the trailer, whether they have a cigarette to which they smile and Vanessa responds in kind.
- Kiefer Sutherland as Bob Wolverton
- Reese Witherspoon as Vanessa Lutz
- Abel Crazy Horse as Detective Mike Atkins
- 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."
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".
It received "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel and Ebert At the Movies.
- The US R-rated version of Freeway was initially refused classification by the Australian OFLC. 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+.
- The UK (Region 2) 18 certificate version of Freeway is only 98 minutes long versus the 102 minute US (Region 1) R-rated version.