Color, 1996, 102 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Matthew Bright
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Keifer Sutherland, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael T. Weiss, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), Republic (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Deconstructing fairy tales is hardly unique in movies, but no one else has done it quite like Matthew Bright with Freeway and its gutter take on Little Red Riding Hood (or Bright's sequel taking a similarly antisocial angle on Hansel and Gretel). An original Oingo Boingo member and longtime Richard Elfman associate including his acting and co-writing involvement with Forbidden Zone and writing gigs on Shrunken Heads and Modern Vampires, Bright recruited Danny Elfman to provide most of the score here (including a wonderfully eccentric main title) and would go on to direct three more films, wrapping up with the famously mutilated and indescribable Tiptoes. Freeway didn't exactly make it to release unscathed either, suffering significant alterations (mostly to its outrageously foul dialogue and a grotesque punchline involving grandma) before getting an R rating for its limited theatrical and wide VHS release. Fortunately the original uncut version was unleashed on the public for the first time with a dual-format 4K UHD and Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome,
Illiterate high schooler Vanessa (Witherspoon) is more focused on her relationship with fellow student Chopper (Woodbine) than her studies, while her home life is a nightmare thanks to her hooker mom, Ramona (Plummer), and her trashy molester stepfather, Larry (Weiss). When a police bust leaves her in the hands of a parole officer, Vanessa decides she'd rather go live with her grandmother (whom she's never met) than get stuck in a correction facility. That means swiping a car to get there, only for it to break down on the freeway and leave her in the seemingly helpful company of traveler Bob (Sutherland) -- a figurative wolf in sheep's clothing with a very dark agenda. After their road trip turns violent, Vanessa's fortunes change again as she ends up in court and finds her journey to grandma's house even more of a challenge than before.
Mixing elements of black comedy, psycho thriller, women-in-prison film, and juvenile delinquent melodrama (among many other things), Freeway became an instant word-of-mouth cult favorite with the '90s indie crowd largely discovering it on VHS and eventually DVD from Republic Pictures. The cast is packed with wild choices from top to bottom with showy turns from Plummer, Brooke Shields, and the underrated Weiss as well as small but vivid appearances by Sydney Lassick and a young Brittany Murphy. Sutherland makes for an effective creep (especially after his appearance has a radical change halfway through), but this is really Witherspoon's show all the way through. A foul-mouthed antihero who isn't afraid to use a firearm, her Vanessa is a vivid portrait that helped put her on the path to Hollywood stardom while also paving the way for other portrayals like Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex.
The initial DVD of Freeway featured an okay transfer, the redband trailer, and a lively commentary by Bright, after which the film largely flew under the radar even after it passed into the possession of Multicom in the early '00s. The Vinegar Syndrome is a great way to either revisit this one or make its acquaintance for the first time, with the new 4K scan from the original camera negative looking superb with the UHD in particularly really packing a punch thanks to the robust HDR grading. Of course it's also uncut for the first time with all the nasty little extra bits, totaling just under two minutes. (Read a full rundown here.) The film is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track, the only way the uncut version was ever mixed; a matrixed surround version was created for the R-rated version, but you get the original here which still decodes nicely to surround anyway if you're set up for it. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided as usual. The original commentary is ported over here, but you also get a brand new commentary with Bright in conversation with Vinegar Syndrome's Brad Henderson about the entire production process-- from the creation of the hand-drawn opening credits through the scripting and casting process (including original choice John Travolta) and the verbal inspiration from watching pornography.
The Blu-ray houses the video extras starting with "Vulgarity is Timeless" (30m57s), a new interview with Bright about the creation of his debut film during his time as a "struggling screenwriter and pot salesman" as well as the involvement of executive producer Oliver Stone. In "Producing Freeway" (18m32s), producer Brad Wyman talks about his career starting with White of the Eye and his experiences making this film thanks to a fortuitous encounter at Cannes. "Changing Lanes" (17m15s) is a very amusing recollection from editor Maysie Hoy about coming to this film just after The Player and The Joy Luck Club(!), as well as her great rapport with Bright during the process. In "To Catch a Predator" (11m9s), actor Wolfgang Bodison recalls his role here as the main cop with Dan Hedaya just after doing A Few Good Men and juggling this with his work on the Highlander TV series. "You’re Under Arrest" (12m12s) features actor Robert Peters chatting about his undercover cop role, explaining what it was like working opposite Witherspoon and Plummer as well as the direction he received from Bright. "Murder Twins" (24m23s) features actresses Leanna Creel and Monica Lacy together noting their acting experience before this and the process that led to them auditioning for the bad girl roles that fit in line with the roles they and their other sister were getting around the time. Also included are archival interviews with Bright (14m46s), Plummer (3m7s), Danny Elfman (4m23s), Oliver Stone (8m6s), and co-producer Samuel Hadida (8m20s), plus a reel of raw behind-the-scenes footage (6m9s), the original electronic press kit (5m44s) including a bit of interview footage with Witherspoon, an 8m32s of on-site raw interviews used to create the EPK (including Witherspoon, Stone, Shields, Sutherland, Plummer, and Bright), the original video trailer, and a 6m32s reel of the affected scenes from the R-rated version including some alternate dialogue.
Reviewed on January 22, 2023.