Freeway (1996 film)

Freeway is a 1996 American Dark comedy crime film written and directed by Matthew Bright and starring Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon and Brooke Shields. The film's plot resembles a dark take on the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood".[3]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byMatthew Bright
Produced byChris Hanley
Brad Wyman
Oliver Stone
Written byMatthew Bright
Music byDanny Elfman
CinematographyJohn Thomas
Edited byMaysie Hoy
The Kushner-Locke Company
Illusion Entertainment Group
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • June 8, 1996 (1996-06-08) (HBO)
  • August 23, 1996 (1996-08-23) (theatrical)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million (est)[2]
Box office$295,493 (US)[2]


Vanessa Lutz is a poor, illiterate teenage girl living south of Los Angeles. Her mother, Ramona, is arrested in a prostitution sting, and her step-father, Larry, is taken into custody on drug and child abuse charges. Social worker Mrs. Sheets comes to take Vanessa away, but Vanessa handcuffs her ankle to a bed and runs away. She takes Mrs. Sheets’ run-down car and plans to go live with her grandmother in Stockton. Along the way, Vanessa stops to see her boyfriend Chopper Wood, a local gang member, to tell him about her trip, and he gives her a gun to sell upon arriving at her destination. Minutes after Vanessa leaves, Chopper is killed in a drive-by shooting by rival gang members. Later, Bob Wolverton, a counselor at a school for boys with emotional problems, picks her up on the side of the highway after her car breaks down and offers to take her as far as Los Angeles, where he is headed.

Over the long drive, Vanessa comes to trust Bob, and confesses to him the details of her painfully dysfunctional life, including being sexually abused by her stepfather and foster parents. At one point, Vanessa shows Bob a photo she keeps in her wallet of her biological father (whose picture, unbeknownst to Vanessa, is of mass murderer Richard Speck). That evening, Bob attacks Vanessa and reveals that he is a serial killer of young girls – known in the press as the "I-5 Killer". He tries to kill Vanessa when she refuses to give in to him. The tables are turned, however, as Vanessa eventually pulls out her gun and berates Bob before shooting him several times and escaping. She goes to a local restaurant where her blood-stained appearance attracts attention from the patrons and staff. They call 911.

Leaving the restaurant, Vanessa is arrested and questioned by two police detectives, Mike Breer and Garnet Wallace, who write her off as a carjacker, even though she insists Bob had tried to kill her and had told her about his crimes.

Bob miraculously survives, but the bullet wounds have left him severely handicapped and facially disfigured. Vanessa is put on trial, with everyone believing that Bob is the innocent victim he claims to be since he has no criminal record, while Vanessa has a long record and is a veteran of juvenile detention centers. Vanessa goes to prison, while Bob and his socialite wife Mimi, who knows nothing of his crimes, are treated like heroes.

Initially scared, Vanessa makes friends in prison that include a heroin-addicted lesbian named Rhonda and a brutal Hispanic gang leader named Mesquita. Vanessa plots to escape to continue on to go live with her grandmother. Vanessa learned from her stepfather how to make a crude shiv from a toothbrush. Vanessa and Mesquita, escorted by prison guards to a new maximum security prison, escape with Mesquita killing one of the security guards. Vanessa and Mesquita part ways - Mesquita to be reunited with her gang and Vanessa to go on to find her way to her grandmother's house.

Breer and Wallace find while re-examining evidence that Vanessa had told the truth. They search Bob's home and find violent child pornography and human remains in a storage shed. Horrified, Mimi runs upstairs and commits suicide. Bob finds the police at his home, and flees to Vanessa's grandmother's place, a trailer park, after finding the address written on a picture of the old woman Vanessa had showed him.

Posing as a prostitute, Vanessa steals a car from a prospective john and drives to her grandmother's house. Vanessa finds Bob in bed wearing her grandmother's nightgown and nightcap with the covers pulled up to his nose. Bob reveals himself and Vanessa sees her grandmother's dead body on the floor. A struggle ensues, culminating in Vanessa strangling Bob. Breer and Wallace arrive and find the bodies of Bob and Vanessa's grandmother. Outside, Vanessa sits in a chair, near her breaking point, when she looks up and asks the detectives if they have a cigarette. They smile, and Vanessa responds in kind.



Freeway premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 1996 where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.[4]

Critical receptionEdit

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 77% based on 39 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "A modern update on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Freeway is an audacious black comedy with a star-making performance from the young Reese Witherspoon."[5] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film had a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[6]

Critics lauded the film's hard-edged satire and performances. Film critic Roger Ebert gave Freeway three and a half stars out of four and stated, "like it or hate it (or both), you have to admire its skill, and the over-the-top virtuosity of Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland." [7] It received "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel and Ebert At the Movies.[8] Joe Baltake of The Sacramento Bee gave Freeway four stars out of four and called it "a wild, audacious drive-in attraction that takes the 'high' from 'highbrow' and the 'low' from 'lowdown' and shakes them up".[9] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave Freeway four stars out of four and said that it was "rude in the way the truth is rude—only funnier". Margaret A. McGurk wrote for The Cincinnati Enquirer that "I didn't particularly want to like Freeway, but I couldn't help myself. Reese Witherspoon made me."[10]


A sequel titled Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby was released in 1999, but was largely disregarded[clarification needed] and released direct-to-video.[citation needed]


  1. ^ ""Freeway", a H.B.O. exclusive movie!". June 12, 1996. Retrieved February 7, 2017 – via Google Groups.
  2. ^ a b "Freeway (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  3. ^ Rabin, Nathan (January 24, 2013). "Reese Witherspoon is a badass Little Red Riding Hood in the sordid, sleazy Freeway". The A.V. Club. Chicago, Illinois: Onion, Inc. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  4. ^ News, Deseret (January 26, 1996). "AVALANCHE OF STARS AT SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL". Deseret News. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  5. ^ Freeway (1996), retrieved March 23, 2020
  6. ^ Freeway, retrieved March 23, 2020
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Freeway movie review & film summary (1997) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  8. ^ "The Chamber, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Looking for Richard, Freeway, 1996 – Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews". Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  9. ^ "MovieClub || Review - It's Little Wild Riding Hood". February 9, 2002. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  10. ^ McGurk, Margaret A. (October 25, 1996). "'Freeway' an old but alluring ride". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Cincinnati, Ohio: Gannett Company.

External linksEdit