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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Schlock and No 'Pulp' In Woeful Wreck 'Freeway'

"Freeway," the 1996 film now playing at the Americom House of Cinema, purports to be a black comedy in the "Pulp Fiction" mode, a clever pastiche of verbal wit and jarring violence that offers a hip, ironic comment on the moral chaos of the modern world.


Unfortunately for the viewer, "Freeway" writer-director Matthew Bright is a most inept novice in the Order of St. Tarantino, and his film, despite an impressive pedigree and some genuine talent in the cast, has nothing of the snap, vigor and quirky inventiveness of his mentor. Bright's touch is so clunky and flaccid that he manages to make the bloody tale of a pistol-packin' white trash mama and a drooling, bug-eyed serial killer about as dull as an insurance seminar.


One can only wonder what drew executive producer Oliver Stone to Bright's script. Stone himself has already directed a Tarantino screenplay ("Natural Born Killers," which "Freeway" at times tries limply to imitate), so it couldn't have been the novelty of the style. It surely couldn't be the fact that the script is based -- in an appallingly literal and simplistic way -- on the fairy tale of "Little Red Riding Hood." Stone's involvement remains a mystery, but the fact is the movie would never have been made without it. Mr. Stone has a lot to answer for.


The movie follows the path of Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon), a nearly illiterate teenage girl from a sordid background (prostitute mother, molesting stepdad, gangsta boyfriend, a long rap sheet of her own petty crimes) as she makes her way up California's Interstate 5 seeking haven at -- yes -- her grandma's house. On the way, she runs into Bob Wolverton -- Get it? Wolverton? Get it? -- a psychologist who earns her trust then turns out to be a murderous pervert (played by Kiefer Sutherland). She shoots him, he survives, she goes to jail, breaks out, he pursues her, etc., etc., and we all end up at Grandma's kitschy little trailer for the narcoleptic denouement. Along the way, we get tough-but-tender cops, a couple of typical women-in-chains jailhouse scenes, some tepid, timid sarcasm aimed at the media, and (to strike a positive note) a fairly interesting score from Danny ("Batman," "Beetlejuice," "Dick Tracy") Elfman.


The movie seems intended to serve as a showcase for young Witherspoon; if so, it serves her ill. Although the production notes tell us she was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, the screeching Southern white trash drawl she puts on in "Freeway" sounds distinctly phony to the native ear. It is, however, all of a piece with the general sense of condescension the movie displays toward the "garbage people" it purports to champion. It ruthlessly simplifies and exploits the complex realities of life on the economic and social margins in America.


It knows nothing of this life, cares nothing about it, and -- worst of all -- is not even entertaining in the goony caricature it paints of it.