(Matthew Bright, USA, 1996)


It was hard, in 1997, to imagine that the over-hyped and over-sold area of American independent film could get any worse than Dream with the Fishes (1997) and Swingers (1996). But then came the execrable Freeway, a movie that plumbs new depths in pointless grotesquery.

You have to wonder about a film when its publicity materials stress the name of a glamorous executive producer (Oliver Stone) over the name of the actual writer-director (Matthew Bright, who previously underwhelmed us with the script for Guncrazy, 1992). Freeway starts with a modicum of brash promise, as the credit graphics blare the filmmaker’s intent to update the Little Red Riding Hood story: a teenage girl menaced by some form of male monster.

The monster turns out to be Bob (Kiefer Sutherland), a child psychologist who has evolved into a smooth-talking psycho. Feisty Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) bots a lift from this sinister gentleman after exiting the ruins of her spectacularly dysfunctional white-trash family (Amanda Plummer from Pulp Fiction, 1994, delivers a shrieking cameo as Vanessa’s mother).

But Vanessa turns out to be no mimsy victim. In fact – and this is the only curious aspect of Freeway – she is possibly even more monstrous than her very own Big Bad Wolf. The violence she inflicts on Bob in self-defence turns him into a hideous-looking cripple (and the butt of easy jokes for the rest of the movie). And then she compounds her "transgression" with every conceivable form of tasteless, dumb and immoral behaviour.

This is a movie that – in the most banal and uninteresting way possible – makes a point of believing in nothing and ridiculing everyone (including its heroine). The shadow of far more adventurous films (such as Natural Born Killers, 1994) looms large. And the endless parade of ugly circus-turns – culminating in a mind-boggling cameo from Brooke Shields – becomes dead tired approximately five minutes after the opening titles.

Intriguing reversal of fortune: the B movie sequel Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby (1999), again written and directed by Bright, lacking Witherspoon but featuring Vincent Gallo, is far superior to Freeway, and makes a virtue of its grim trashiness. Of course, it was not released commercially in Australia.

© Adrian Martin December 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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