Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: Witherspoon is driving force in 'Freeway'

Whenever I need to cool off and blow off some stress, I go for a nice, relaxing walk down the middle of the highway.

All those people texting, changing lanes without signaling, and under the obvious influence of drugs and alcohol -- nothing makes me feel safer or more serene.

It's a lot healthier than you people and your "yoga" and "not getting stuck in the grille of an Expedition," that's for sure. That's why it comes as such a shock that in 1996's Freeway, the roads are anything but safe.

After her prostitute mom and druggy stepdad are arrested again, teenager Reese Witherspoon leaves to stay with her grandma. When her car breaks down, she is given a ride by kindly counselor Kiefer Sutherland -- who's actually a serial murderer known as the I-5 Killer.

And now it's time to let you in on one of my ultra-secret prejudices. No, not the one against all races. That one's no secret. I'm talking about my deep-rooted hatred for retold fairy tales. They're like bad remakes, but worse, because you've already heard the original story so many times you wish those witches and wicked stepsisters would just invest in a Glock already and be done with it.

So Freeway is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. But this isn't your grandmother's Little Red Riding Hood. Witherspoon is illiterate, for one. Oh, and after she's arrested for attempted murder, she immediately constructs a prison shiv. Did I mention the car she was driving to grandma's was stolen from her parole officer?

In other words, Freeway is to Little Red Riding Hood what The Amphibian-King Who Made His Peasants Battle for His Own Sport is to The Frog Prince.

Written and directed by Matthew Bright, it begins in uncomfortable squalor -- while Witherspoon's mother is out tricking, her stepfather is abusing her. But by the time Witherspoon's story is finished, you get the feeling life has made her so tough that the Big Bad Wolf never stood a chance.

This probably sounds so grim it could even make Bob Ross' trees think about burning themselves down. And it is, kind of, but Freeway is also a pitch-black comedy and satire with a brutal, casual contempt for authority and the justice system. It's anarchic in the same way Repo Man is anarchic, which is to say spectacularly.

Sutherland pitches in with an excellently nasty performance, but this movie might have fallen apart completely without Witherspoon's brassy cunning and troubled humanity.

Disturbing in an excellent way, Freeway just gets better as it goes along.

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords.

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