Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) may not be able to read but she ain’t dumb.
When her mother (Amanda Plummer) gets arrested for prostitution and her stepfather (Michael T. Weiss) goes to jail for meth possession, Vanessa knows that it’s time to leave South Los Angeles and go to her grandmother in Stockton. She puts on her red jacket, packs her possession in a picnic basket, and heads for the freeway. Vanessa is determined to get to grandmother’s house and she’s not going to let anyone stop her. Not the police. Not the gangbangers who murdered her boyfriend, Chopper (Bookeem Woodbine). And certainly not Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), the psychiatrist who moonlights as the I-5 killer.
An audaciously wild take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Freeway used to be a HBO mainstay, where it developed the cult following that it retains to this very day. The violence is graphic and the humor is often viscous but Reese Witherspoon has never been better than she was in the role of the loud and unapologetically profane Vanessa Lutz. Whether she’s cussing up a storm or shooting a pervert in the face or plotting her escape from jail, Vanessa is a whirlwind of nonstop energy and it is impossible not to get swept up with her. Witherspoon has since won an Oscar and appeared in all sorts of “prestige” pictures but she’s never had a better role than she did in Freeway.
Witherspoon is such a force of a nature that she dominates the film but the rest of the cast is interesting as well, with several familiar faces in small roles. Sutherland has played so many psychos that it is not a surprise when Bob turns out to be one but he still throws himself into the role. (Like a cartoon character, it doesn’t matter how badly injured or disfigured Bob gets. He just keeps on going.) Dan Hedaya and Wolfgang Bodison play detectives. Alanna Urbach and Brittany Murphy play two inmates who Witherspoon meets in prison. Brooke Shields has a small role as Bob’s unsuspecting wife and is convincingly clueless.
Ultimately, though, the movie belongs to Reese Witherspoon. Vanessa might not always be pleasant to be around but she’s so determined to make it to grandmother’s house but you can’t help but be on her side. She’s the Little Red Riding Hood that we all deserve.
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