Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ferocious FREEWAY

by Robyn Buckley
"'Cause I'm pissed off, and the whole world owes me." – Vanessa Lutz

Reese Witherspoon doesn’t get enough credit for how fantastic she was in the '90s. From Dani Trant in The Man in the Moon at the start of the decade through to Tracy Flick in Election, Reese often played fascinating, yet tricky roles. She made a name for herself playing characters that were far from perfect. One that falls into this category is the role of Vanessa Lutz in Freeway. Vanessa is a girl who is both smart and self-reliant, but she has suffered a tumultuous upbringing and is likely to use her fists first, words second. Reese Witherspoon has an uncanny ability to play both sympathetic and off-putting, and never is her talent for this type of role more evident than in Freeway.

Freeway was released in 1996 and directed by Matthew Bright. I will note that I'm not familiar with his other work – if any readers are fans, let me know if there are other films of his that I should check out! Along with Reese Witherspoon, the movie stars Kiefer Sutherland, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, and Brooke Shields. The premise is relatively simple – it's Little Red Riding Hood in mid-'90s Los Angeles with Red replaced by a runaway teen from the wrong side of the tracks and the Wolf replaced by Bob Wolverton, a serial killer masquerading as a school counselor. Once I write it out, it might not be that simple…
I usually try to avoid major spoilers in my articles, as I want readers to have a chance to see without ruining, but I'm making a few exceptions for Freeway. Writing about this movie without revealing a few spoilers is hard! As noted, Freeway is a play on Little Red Riding Hood. Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) is going back into the foster care system after her mother (Amanda Plummer) is arrested for prostitution, and her stepfather is arrested for drugs and child abuse. Vanessa has been in the system many times before and refuses to go back in again. To avoid this, she decides to run away to her grandmother’s house in Stockton, California. Early in the film, there are news reports of a person known as the “I-5 Killer,” a serial killer who has been murdering young women near Los Angeles. Vanessa does not worry about this, as she is located further south than where the killer has been attacking.

Vanessa begins her journey to her grandmother’s house with a car and a gun that is given as a gift. She very quickly loses the car after it breaks down while she is on the highway. This is where Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland) finds her, alone and in need of help. He quickly strikes by acting as the “Nice Guy” who is willing to give her a break by driving her as far as LA. Bob is a school counselor, and he gets Vanessa to open up easily to him about her past and her family. However, as she reveals parts of her past, the viewer and Vanessa begin to realize that something is off about Bob. He derives too much pleasure from her stories. Once this comes to light, Vanessa very quickly realizes that Bob is the “I-5 Killer.” The movie becomes a fight for survival for Vanessa. Don’t worry! I haven’t given too much away as this all happens early in Freeway. There is way more after this point.
My MVP for Freeway should be obvious from the opening paragraph. Reese Witherspoon is perfect as Vanessa Lutz. Every facial expression and line delivery feels real and lived in. She brings a sense of fun, but also ferociousness to Vanessa. The viewer wants her to succeed but can see that her methods and how she reacts to situations are not always the most rational response. Reese Witherspoon brings Vanessa Lutz to life in a way that other actors would find hard to pull off.

I hope that readers have a chance to watch Freeway. It’s entertaining with strong performances from the entire cast and has some of my favorite dialogue. You won’t be disappointed! Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Robyn’s Ramblings

• Love the intro, although it might be a smidge too long.
• Vanessa and Chopper are all about the PDA.
• Vanessa doesn't have a good parental support system.
• Stepdad Larry is super skeevy. I hate him.
• Amanda Plummer plays the mom. Her character is terrible, but it’s a credit to her acting that I feel.
• Poor social worker Mrs. Sheets. Only doing her job.
• I know it's on the nose, but I love the red coat and the basket.
• Cars shouldn't have that much smoke pouring out.
• Oh, hi Kiefer. I'm sure you won't turn out bad.
• Don't trust Bob, Vanessa! Don't spill your secrets!
• Bob's so creepy. Stop getting so close to Vanessa.
• Ugh. I hate how Bob makes Vanessa bare her soul.
• Why did it take me this long to figure out that his name was Bob Wolverton? Wolverton... Wolf! I’m an idiot.
• I want Vanessa to punch Bob right in the face.
• Yes! I probably shouldn't be this excited about someone holding a gun on someone.
• "See where bad manners get you?"
• Reese Witherspoon is so freaking good.
• Bob, why would you tell her that if she calls the cops, you will go free? That just gives her incentive to shoot you.
• Aw, damn. He's alive.
• Hey Dan Hedaya!
• Hey Brooke Shields!
• I like these detectives.
• I love Vanessa's reaction to seeing Bob in the courtroom.
• Brittany Murphy! I miss her.
• Vanessa doesn't take shit from anyone.
• Ugh. The sympathy the Wolverton’s are getting is disgusting.
• Detectives detecting!
• Damn, Mesquita, that's cold.
• Vanessa just doesn't have time for anyone's shit anymore.
• Well, she's made it to Grandma's.
• The music is off-putting but perfect. It's very discordant.
• How many bullets does this gun have?
• I love the smiles at the end. They’ve all gone a little mad.


  1. I just love this movie. Thanks for reminding me it's out there. It would be an excellent addition to FTM's Halloween roster.

  2. This is an all time favorite. I thinks it's in permanent junesploitation rotation for me. Most things either written or directed by Bright have been at least worth seeing. Modern Vampires and Tiptoes stand out to me.

  3. I really like your list of thoughts, it's a fun way to track your reactions to the movie.

    Not to get too heavy but this is one of my Moms favorite movies, and she's someone who abhors violence, but as an abuse survivor Reese Witherspoon's character gives her an avatar in which she can wreak her own vengeance without actually harming anyone. That might seem dark but it's actually great, and I try to watch this with her every couple of years.