This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freeway (1996)

"Do you wanna get shot a whole buncha times?"
-Vanessa Lutz

Reese Witherspoon came onto the movie scene with one of the best debut performances in film history in the coming of age drama Man in the Moon (1991). From there, she gave other great performances in (mainly) independent films such as this one, although her best during that period was her performance as overachieving Tracy Flick in Election (1999), which may very well top the distinguished list of performances which should have been nominated for an Oscar.
Bonafide stardom, however, came with her role as Elle Woods in the comedy Legally Blonde (2001). Her spirited work in that film, though, is the only reason it's worth a look. Remove Reese and Blonde is quite predictable and forgettable, in the same way that if you remove Jack Nicholson from Batman (1989), that movie is as lacking as Joel Schumacher's more-hated Bat-flicks.
Speaking of Jack, Witherspoon's character in Freeway, Vanessa Lutz, is similar to his character in the classic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), R.P. McMurphy. Both are delinquents with sharp senses of humor who gain the sympathy of the audience.
Vanessa's life in a poor section of Los Angeles is disrupted when her mother (Amanda Plummer) is arrested for prostitution. But rather than returning to foster care, Vanessa steals her social worker's car and, after obtaining a gun and bidding goodbye to her boyfriend Chopper (Bokeem Woodbine)-who is killed in a shootout shortly afterward-heads to her grandmother's in Stockton. But Vanessa doesn't get far when her car breaks down on the highway. To her rescue, though, comes Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), a schoolteacher who offers her a lift. Bob's kind nature prompts Vanessa to basically give him her life story, which includes the times her stepfather and others have molested her. After dinner in a cafe, though, Bob reveals his true colors by trying to kill her, which convinces her that he's the infamous 'I-5' killer that's been in the news. But Vanessa manages to shoot him with her gun (after the pinned-down Bob states that he wouldn't be convicted of any crime with his clean record and, subsequently, offers her money) and leaves his body in his car before running off.
Ironically, Bob isn't dead and stumbles into a hospital. Although the gunshots have left him disfigured, he tells the police and his unsuspecting wife Mimi (Brooke Shields) that Vanessa assaulted him and that he's an innocent victim.
Vanessa is promptly arrested and, after a hearing, sent to prison, despite informing detectives Breer and Wallace (Wolfgang Bodison and Dan Hedaya, respectively) of what Bob really is.
These words prompt them to reexamine their evidence and, as Vanessa breaks out with the help of her fellow inmates and resumes her trip to Grandma's, discover with Mimi that Bob really is the 'I-5' killer.
Unlike Cuckoo's Nest, the most tragic character here isn't the main character or anyone brought under their wing, but rather Mimi. She believes her husband to be a great humanitarian and, when she learns he's anything but, promptly takes her life with a bullet in the mouth.
Meanwhile, Bob himself goes on the run when he sees the police at his home. With a picture of Vanessa's grandma that he somehow acquired, he meets up with Vanessa posing as her grandma. Vanessa, however, isn't fooled and quickly sees that her grandma is Bob's latest victim. She also turns out to be his last victim as Vanessa strangles Bob after a vicious struggle. Breer and Wallace arrive and (presumably) exonerate her.
This film has been called a take on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood and its easy to see why (a trip to Grandma's and Bob's surname are probably the most obvious reflections of this).
Witherspoon's great work is matched by Sutherland, who makes Bob charming and then scary. Perhaps my favorite moment in the film is when Vanessa puts the fear of God into Bob by pulling her gun on him, after he had done the same to her just moments earlier.
I can only hope that Witherspoon returns to making films as clever as this soon because, with the glorious exception of her Oscar-winning work in Walk the Line (2005), her recent films, including How Do You Know (2010) which co-stars Jack, have been less than satisfying.

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