Little Red Riding Hood On Acid: Freeway (1996, directed by Matthew Bright)


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.

Insomnia File #11: Summer Catch (dir by Mike Tollin)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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Whenever I look at my cable guide, I always notice that channel 834 is listed as being “MorMax.”  For some reason, I always assume that MorMax stands for Morman Max and I’m always expecting that it’s going to show movies about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  But actually, MorMax stands for More Cinemax.

Anyway, last night, if you were having a hard time sleeping around midnight (though why anyone would ever try to go to sleep before midnight is beyond me), you could have turned on MorMax and watched the 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch!

Though it may be hard to believe today, there was a time when Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a pretty big deal.  From 1997 to 2001, Prinze appeared in 179 movies.  Well, actually, he only appeared in 10 but since they were all aimed at teenage girls and played on cable constantly, it felt like 179.  (Seriously, there was a time when I could not get through an entire day without seeing at least a few minutes of She’s All That.)  For the most part, all of these films were pretty much the same.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. plays a kind of dumb guy who falls in love with a girl.  Prinze’s character was usually from a working class family and had at least one wacky friend.  The girl was usually from a rich family and had one bitchy friend who would be an ex-friend by the end of the movie.  There was usually at least one scene set on the beach or at a swimming pool, the better for Freddie to remove his shirt and his costar to chastely strip down to her underwear.  There was usually a falling in love montage and at least one big misunderstanding.  Freddie would always flash the same goofy smile whenever the misunderstanding was cleared up.  Even at the time that the films were being released, nobody was ever under the impression that Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a particularly good actor.  But he was likable, unthreatening, and hot in an oddly bland sort of way.

(Speaking of oddly bland, check out the titles of some of Prinze’s films: She’s All That, Down To You, Boys and Girls, Head over Heels, and, of course, Summer Catch.)

Summer Catch opens with Ryan Dunne (Freddie!) explaining that he’s just a working class kid from Massachusetts but this summer, he’s going to be playing amateur baseball in Cap Cod and hopefully, he’ll get signed to a professional contract as result.  (Freddie adopts an inconsistent “pahk ya cah by the bah” accent and its kind of endearing to see him trying so hard.)  Ryan, of course, is just a local guy who mows lawns for a living but he’s determined to succeed.  He just has to stay focused.

However, that’s going to be difficult because he’s just met Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel).  The Parrishes own a vacation home on Cape Cod and they are so rich that they can afford to name their oldest daughter Tenley.  Soon, Tenley and Ryan are a couple but Tenley’s father wants Tenley to marry a rich boy and Ryan’s father is too busy being all surly and working class to appreciate Ryan’s dreams.

(Tenley’s father, incidentally, is played by Bruce Davison because all snobbish WASPs of a certain age are played by Bruce Davison.  Ryan’s father is played by Fred Ward because Summer Catch was made in 2001.)

Because every Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie needs a hyperactive and wacky sidekick, Ryan’s best friend on the team is a catcher named Billy Brubaker (Matthew Lillard.)  Billy is known as “Bru.”  There’s a lot of scenes of people saying stuff like “Yo, Bru,” and “Come on, Bru!”  After a while, I found myself hoping for a scene where Bru went crazy and started shouting, “My name is Billy, dammit!  BILLY!  DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”  Instead, however, we get a subplot about how Billy can’t get any hits until he has sex with and wears the thong underwear of a local baseball fan.

Anyway, Summer Catch is an extremely predictable film.  It’s not surprising that this was one of Freddie’s final star vehicles because, other than his heroic effort to maintain a Massachusetts accent, even he seems to be bored with it all.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Summer Catch is that there’s next to no actual conflict in the film.  Oh sure, Ryan and Tenley have a few misunderstandings but it’s never anything serious.

If there’s an unheralded hero to Summer Catch, it’s the uncredited guy who we hear providing commentary during the games.  Seriously, I would have been so lost if not for him constantly saying stuff like, “This is Ryan Dunne’s chance to show what he can do,” and “Billy Brubaker needs to get a hit here…”  They should have made the entire movie about him and his efforts to remain up-to-date on all the players.

Because Summer Catch was a baseball film, I begged my sister Erin to watch it with me so that she could explain all the baseball stuff to me.  For the record, Erin says that the game scenes were okay (and I personally liked all of the totally gratuitous slow motion) but that the film wasn’t really a deep examination of baseball.  To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting that it would be.  I just wanted to make my sister stay up late and watch a movie with me.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye

 

 

Back to School #50: Clueless (dir by Amy Heckerling)


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By their very nature, teen films tend to get dated very quickly.  Fashions, music, and cultural references — all of these serve to make a film popular when it’s first released and occasionally laughable just a few years later.  Take 1995’s Clueless for instance.  Watching it now, it’s impossible not to get a little snarky when Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) refers to a hot guy as being a “Baldwin.”  When heard today, it’s hard not to wonder if Cher is thinking of beefy rageaholic Alec or ultra-religious realty TV mainstay Stephen.  (Personally, I prefer to think that she was thinking of Adam Baldwin.)

Clueless is one of those films that I always remember watching on TV and loving when I was little but, whenever I watch it now, I always find myself feeling slightly disappointed in it.  It’s never quite as good as I remember and, with each viewing, I’m just a little bit more aware that, while both were very well-cast in their respect roles, Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash weren’t exactly the most versatile actresses of their generation.  There’s a reason why Dash is now a political commentator and Silverstone is best known for that video of her spitting food into her baby’s mouth.  As well, watching the film now, it’s hard not to think about how the talented Brittany Murphy would tragically pass away 14 years after its initial release.

And yet, I can’t help it.  I still enjoy Clueless.  I could spend hours nitpicking it apart and pointing out what parts of it don’t quite work as well as they should but ultimately, Clueless is a fun movie that features and celebrates three strong female characters, which is more than you can say for most teen films.

Directed and written by Amy Heckerling (who earlier directed the classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Clueless is based (quite directly) on Jane Austen’s Emma.  In this version, Emma is Cher, the spoiled 16 year-old daughter of a lawyer (played, very well, by Dan Hedaya), who lives in Beverly Hills and who is happy being superficial, vain, and popular.  In fact, the only person who ever criticizes Cher is her stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd), who is studying to be an environmental lawyer and is visiting during a break from college.

When Cher plays matchmaker and deftly manages to pair up two of her teachers (played by Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan), she realizes that she enjoys helping people.  (Though, it must be said, the only reason she helped her two teachers wass because they were both taking out the misery of being single on her…)  So, Cher and her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) decide to help another student, new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy), become popular.  After giving Tai a makeover, forbidding her to date skater Travis (Breckin Meyer, who is adorable), and trying to set Tai up with rich snob Elton (Jeremy Sisto), Cher is shocked to discover that Tai has become so popular that she is now challenging Cher’s social status.  Even worse, Tai decides that she has a crush on Josh right around the same time that Cher realizes the same thing.

Plus, Cher still has to pass her driving test…

As I said before, Clueless is hardly a perfect film but it is a very likable movie.  Director Amy Heckerling creates such a vivid and colorful alternate teenage universe and the script is full of so many quotable lines that you can forgive the fact that the story sometimes runs the risk of getting almost as superficial of Cher.  It may never be quite as good as I remembered it being but Clueless is still an entertaining and fun movie.

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