Running Time: 102 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Format: widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: Stereo, THX Mastered
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: 1
MSRP: $9.98

Own It!
Freeway (1996)

Director Matthew Bright calls his film "artsploitation;" I'll let you make up your own mind about the art part. While it does have a high volume of exploitation elements -- blood, guns, sex, prison, drugs, sadistic and perverted murderers -- Freeway is also a winning comedy, a compelling drama, and a razor-sharp satire.

Reese Witherspoon (Election) puts in a brilliant performance as Vanessa Lutz, the illiterate white-trash heroine whose life is constantly thrown into disarray by the people with control over her life: her prostitute mom, her junkie stepdad, her well-meaning but ineffectual welfare officer. When mom gets arrested for soliciting (a typically energetic performance by Amanda Plummer), Vanessa takes matters into her own hands by chaining the welfare officer to a bed post and taking off to her grandma's house. Along the way, she meets Bob (Kiefer Sutherland), a seemingly kind social worker for troubled boys who soon cajoles Vanessa into spilling every last private detail of her disheveled life. When it turns out that Bob is the "I-5 Killer," a serial murderer with a penchant for cutting up working girls, Vanessa promptly turns the situation around and blows Bob away with her handy pistol.

That's only the first 40 minutes, and it's a twisted roller coaster ride the entire way. Freeway is one of the most original films I've seen in months and deserves a look from anyone who enjoyed Pulp Fiction or any of Witherspoon's other work. This was also one of the few films in which I enjoyed Kiefer Sutherland's performance (another was his turn as the mad doctor in Dark City); his Bob (last name of Wolverton, just in case the opening "Big Bad Wolf" credits didn't turn you on to the Little Red Riding Hood theme) is one sick puppy. Don't miss Brooke Shields as his indignant and staunchly supportive wife later in the film.

A nice widescreen presentation, with stereo sound (THX mastered but no Dolby Surround?). The menus are a bit awkward and simplistic, but not to the point of distraction.

The only extras on this disc are the trailer (which, in my opinion, should be standard on all discs, if only to provide a history of the evolution of trailers), and the "Director's Narration," a commentary track which runs the length of the film. Matthew Bright isn't terribly interesting on this track; he stops short of describing the action on screen, but does talk a bit too much about character motivation, his love of women's white cotton underwear, and "what we were trying to convey." Hey directors, if you did your job, we can tell what you were trying to convey from the movie itself. Talk more about the actors, behind-the-scenes stuff, funny anecdotes, something besides the film's plot. We got that already.

Christopher Holland, 3/15/00