Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland star in this violent, modern retelling of the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. Reese plays Vanessa Lutz, a near-illiterate teen that most likely won’t graduate high school, who is quickly earning a diploma in the life of hard knocks. She lives in the slums of L.A. with her crack-head mom (a perfectly cast Amanda Plummer as Ramona Lutz) and creepy stepdad (Michael T. Weiss as Larry). When Ramona and Larry are hauled off to jail after a particularly wild afternoon, Vanessa finds herself on the way to foster care. Instead, she hijacks her social worker’s car and starts her long journey to get safely to Grandma’s house. Too bad she meets the Big Bad Wolf (Kiefer Sutherland as Bob Wolverton) along the way…
Holy hell, who knew America’s Sweetheart had it in her? This Southern belle can throw down! Most filmgoers equate Reese Witherspoon with Elle Woods, the ditzy accidental law student from Legally Blonde. But before she became one of Hollywood’s go-to rom-com heroines, she embraced her dark side in Freeway, with stunning results. The film works so well, in large part due to Witherspoon’s no-holds-barred performance. She gives Vanessa a yearning sweetness that leaves you rooting for her basic humanity, all while pairing her character’s vulnerability with the shockingly tough veneer of a seasoned criminal. Add in a trucker’s mouth, and you’ve got the jaw-dropping portrait of a young woman prepared to fight for her life, at all costs.
All I need to live is my will… and a red leather miniskirt.
Of course nods go to Kiefer Sutherland as the pitch-perfect Bob Wolverton. The plot wouldn’t work without Sutherland’s unctuous performance. It’s fascinating to watch Bob’s shifting nuances, as he slithers from a well-meaning good guy who picks up Vanessa after her stolen car breaks down, to revealing himself as the psychotic 1-5 killer who’s been offing prostitutes along stretches of freeway between San Diego and Los Angeles. Sutherland’s character plays on all of our fears – that a seemingly sweet-natured person (Bob’s a high school guidance counselor by day) is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He makes the most of his role, embracing Bob’s horrendousness with verve.
It’s a must to also give props to Freeway’s supporting cast. The aforementioned Amanda Plummer (costar in the fabulous So I Married An Axe Murderer, plus so much more) rocks it in her brief screen time as Vanessa’s cracked out prostitute of a mom. Beloved and prolific character actor Dan Hedaya brings warmth as Detective Garnet Wallace, who’s on Vanessa’s tail as she cuts a wide swath of mayhem. Brooke Shields brings her best 80’s eyebrows and preppy sensibility to Mimi Wolverton, Bob’s socialite wife who’s unwittingly living a lie. Brittany Murphy (RIP) pops up as Rhonda, a whacked out teen Vanessa meets in juvenile detention. The actors ping off Reese’s white-hot intensity, with everyone getting a moment to shine.
I’d add a caption, but I think Vanessa’s got this one covered.
The Little Red Riding Hood subplot keeps things on track, helping move the plot forward at a rapid, if somewhat obvious, pace. The use of the allegory is interesting; it adds another layer to the character’s motives, elevating what would otherwise be a bleak exploration. Some of the references are hilarious – for instance, when Vanessa leaves home, she packs her meager belongings in a red basket. (As if girlfriend doesn’t own a tote bag.) Others are quite sad. In the Brothers Grimm version of LRRH, the young girl is saved from the Big Bad Wolf by a lumberjack. Vanessa’s not so lucky – her savior, boyfriend Chopper Wood (get it?), is offed in drive-by shooting at the beginning of the movie. Of course Red’s story wouldn’t be complete without the action culminating at grandma’s house – but this ending definitely ain’t for kids.
I used to think Reese really dug deep for her inspiration in Freeway– however, in light of her recent drunk and disorderly arrest, I’m thinking this lady might’ve had a little Vanessa in her all along. (Witherspoon even pulled a big no-no with the arresting officer. Yep, she actually said, “Don’t you know who I am? You’re about to find out!” Or, as Vanessa would’ve emphatically insisted, “I’m pissed off and the whole world owes me.”) In life, as in film, Witherspoon always knows just what to say.
Having trouble visualizing Reese Witherspoon’s recent arrest? Here’s a handy clip! [Video NSFW.]
Take a Drink: every time there’s a nod to Little Red Riding Hood.
Take a Drink: every time Vanessa says, “Bob!” in her delightful Southern twang.
Take a Drink: every time you find yourself holding your breath. This film is intense!
Take a Drink: every time Vanessa beats the crap out of someone.
Do a Shot: in honor of composer Danny Elfman and executive producer Oliver Stone.