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Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? Not Reese Witherspoon in the awesome Freeway



Those crafty cinephiles over at The Belcourt must want people to know they'll be wasting their time if they go see the upcoming Red Riding Hood. Never mind that the movie looks kind of wack anyway, with willowy-ass Amanda Seyfried going toe-to-toe with the Big Bad Wolf. They must figure why do you need to see some souped-up Little Red Riding Hood revamp when you can check out the more twisted 1996 redo Freeway, which the theater will play as a midnight-movie feature this weekend.       

Freeway has Reese Witherspoon, showing a badass side that may shock the hell out of her Legally Blonde fans, as proud but persistently troubled teen Vanessa Lutz. Heading to her grandmother's place after her dirt-doing parents (Amanda Plummer and Michael T. Weiss, both amping up the white-trashiness) get taken away by cops, she unwittingly accepts a ride from a smooth-talking serial killer named Wolverton (a slowly menacing Kiefer Sutherland). Things don't turn out well for dude, who pays the price for picking up a girl whose basket carries not sweets for Grandma but a gun from her gangbanger boyfriend (Bokeem Woodbine).

Released during that wacky time in the '90s where many American indies showed up on cable first before they had a run in theaters — that's how I discovered it one jaw-dropping Saturday night on HBO — the movie sports a gleeful grunginess you find in many of your more peculiar straight-to-cable offerings. Unfortunately, the movie came out during that era of bullet-ridden, self-referential exploitation flicks (Vanity Fair columnist James Wolcott rightfully called the genre "scuzz cinema") which came into vogue in the wake of Tarantino-mania.

But Freeway is a pulp picture that doesn't snarkily wrap itself in quotation marks. Writer-director Matthew Bright (the brother of film-scoring virtuoso Danny Elfman, who did this movie's score) makes the sort of lowdown, low-budget, immensely provocative B-movie Sam Fuller churned out all the time back in the day. It even turns into a women-in-prison flick midway through, with Witherspoon doing time in an all-girl detention center with a curvy but still kooky Brittany Murphy as her lesbian bunkmate.

As dark and deranged as Freeway is — Brooke Shields, of all people, shows up as Sutherland's clueless wife — the movie's girl-power moral stays straight-faced, even when you find yourself nervously laughing at Bright's sicko daring. An illiterate, foul-mouthed, wayward youth, Witherspoon's Lutz tries to prove to the world that she is not the lost cause everyone accepts her to be. In its own skeevy, demented way, Freeway declares its own kind of class revolt, teaching poor, little girls that they're not garbage. They can even do good, like ridding the world of scumbag serial killers. Let's see Red Riding Hood handle that shit!

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