Hart to Hart was a TV show which ran from 1979-1983. In the show, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers play a rich couple who solve murders. The show was lite and fun, but one of the main characters never got enough credit -- that was the dog, Freeway. Well, I'm glad to say that Freeway finally got his own feature film and it's made its way to DVD. Hold on a second, Geoffrey Kleinman is saying something to me. What's that? Freeway isn't about the dog from Hart to Hart? OK, I guess that I should watch this DVD.
Well, as it turns out, Geoffrey was right. Freeway isn't about a dog. To be honest, I'm not sure what it's about.
Reese Witherspoon stars in Freeway as Vanessa Lutz. Vanessa is an illiterate teenaged girl who is involved in an inter-racial relationship with her gang-banger boyfriend, Chopper (Bokeem Woodbine). She lives with her mother, Ramona (Amanda Plummer), a methadone-addicted prostitute, and her stepfather, Larry (Michael T. Weiss), a crack-smoking child molester. When Ramona and Larry are arrested, Vanessa flees from a child services worker and hits the road. When her car breaks down, she's picked up by Bob Wolverton (Keifer Sutherland), a mild-mannered counselor. Bob is very kind and Vanessa opens up to him, telling him her story. But, Bob has a dark-side and Vanessa is meant to be his latest victim. However, Bob has no idea just how crazy Vanessa can be.
Writer/director Matthew Bright doesn't try to hide the fact that Freeway is a modern-day take on "Little Red Riding Hood". The opening credits are filled with drawings of wolves stalking scantily-clad young women. Vanessa wears a red jacket and when she decides to go find her grandmother, she takes a red basket with her. And of course, she comes across Bob Wolverton. The allusions to the classic fairy tale are very heavy-handed, but the idea of modernizing "Little Red Riding Hood" may be the sanest thing about this movie.
In the DVD commentary, Bright refers to the film as "artsploitation". If by that he means a very confused movie, then he's head the nail on the head, as Freeway is a movie which changes tone and emotion constantly. The first 1/3 of the film is incredibly depressing and bleak. The amount of problems which Vanessa must face is almost ludicrous. Every few minutes, another hardship appears and after just a few minutes, the movie is already weighing on the viewer. Then, the movie suddenly becomes a thriller, and the audience's feelings toward Vanessa change. At the 50-minute mark, the main story apparently comes to an end.
Then, Freeway takes yet another turn and becomes what appears to be a black comedy. There were some moments where I got the feeling that I was supposed to be laughing, but nothing (save for a photo of Vanessa) is particularly funny. The movie further twists the characters and the events get more and more absurd. This will leave many viewers confused about how they should feel about the characters. And just when the story seems to level out, something outrageous happens. Even the final moment of the film is difficult to read. The result is a movie which has a visceral effect on the viewer, but it's never what I would qualify as entertaining.
Of course, one of the main reasons why people will be interested in this film is the presence of Reese Witherspoon. This wasn't her first feature film, or her first leading role, but you'd never know this by watching Freeway. Witherspoon is a long way from an Oscar-winning performance here, as she volleys between overacting (which was most likely requested by Bright) and saying her lines with little conviction. At times, she sounds as if she's in a high school play. Of course, it's still interesting to hear what many consider to be a very poised actress spouting some very profane lines.
Freeway hits the road on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. This newly released DVD is the exact same release which hits stores in 1997, right down to the static, non-specific menu screen. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1, but the transfer is not anamorphic, despite the fact that the DVD box states that it's "16 x 9". This non-anamorphic, THX-certified transfer leads me to believe that this was taken from a laserdisc release. Overall, the transfer isn't very impressive. The image is littered with defects from the source material, such as scratches and vertical lines. The colors are somewhat washed out, and even the reds look flat. Grain is evident throughout, as is some mild artifacting. Those hoping for a new transfer on this release will be sorely disappointed.
The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Although, the recording volume is slightly low. The bulk of the audio comes from the center channel. There were a few notable stereo effects, mostly when a character would walk off-screen while still talking. There were no notable surround effects, and only a few low-frequency effects.
The extras on this DVD, again, are the same as the previous release. Writer/director Matthew Bright provides an AUDIO COMMENTARY (which is referred to as the "Director's Narration) where he constantly reminds us that he likes young women. Awkward... He speaks at length about the making of the film, commenting on the locations, the budget restraints and the actors. It's interesting to hear this commentary which is nearly a decade old, as he clearly has no idea where Witherspoon and bit player Brittany Murphy will go in just a few short years. The only other extra on the DVD is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film, which is shown full-frame.
Freeway reminded me of what John Waters' film would be like if Waters decided to focus more on violence and sadism than camp. The movie starts with an incredibly unappealing characters trapped in an incredibly depressing situation and then spirals out of control from there. The movie will have an impact on the viewer, but you'll probably feel like bathing after watching the movie. And again, this DVD is the exact same version which was released in 1997 -- it just has a new cover.