There's a killer on the road…and on the radio!
Freeway (not the one with Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon…the other one) imparts bland malaise that is hard to explain. The movie features fast cars, a psychotic with road rage, a bounty hunter, and an attractive blonde. People are brutally killed in cold blood, their cars careening off the road in an orgy of mayhem. On a pure dumb action level, Freeway appears to be doing all the right things. Yet my adrenaline response meter barely moved above apathy. Since Freeway does closely adhere to the "late nite" code, it will strike the right note with a handful of late nite cinema fans.
Facts of the Case
Sunny Harper (Darlanne Fluegel) is a lithe, comely blonde in tight jeans and pink sweater who works as a nurse in the city hospital. Her husband was brutally murdered in a freeway shooting, and Sunny has trouble finding closure. Perhaps that is due to a steady stream of crash victims with .44 caliber orifices that keeps pouring into the hospital morgue. The body count leads Sunny to believe a psychotic killer is on the loose—a reasonable hypothesis that seems ludicrous to the jaded police detectives. Sunny has no choice but to take matters into her own hands.
Bored with his simple highway shootings, the killer begins calling radio host Doctor David Lazarus (Richard Belzer) to chat. His calls to Dr. Laz are filled with Biblical ramblings, magnum gunshots, and squealing tires. Eventually, Laz puts two and two together: his freaky radio guest is the killer!
Soon, Dr. Lazarus and Sunny Harper form an uneasy alliance to bring the psycho to his meet end. Will misunderstood tough guy Frank Quinn (James Russo) help them or hinder them? Will Sunny find Frank oddly appealing and tumble into bed with him? Most importantly: who will get the pleasure of putting a cap into the killer, walking away from the body in tears emotional release unaware that the killer is still alive, only to be rescued at the last second by a gunshot from another character who shows up at the scene just in time?
You can determine a lot about a movie by reading between the lines. Ponder these random facts about Freeway:
• Freeway was director Francis Delia's only feature film
(until the recent Time of Her Time, which I expect most people have not
seen). Otherwise he directed TV series such as Crime Story, Max
Headroom, and Friday the 13th. He also helmed the Weird Al Yankovic
video "I Lost On Jeopardy."
After examining the circumstantial evidence, it makes sense that this uninspired 1980s throwaway has made it to the pantheon of DVD immortality.
Just to be clear: Freeway is bad, but no better or worse than other forgettable late nite movies. You know this breed: linear plots; the tease of explicit sexual antics (which evaporates in a mélange of blue lights and awkwardly placed thighs); tough-ish guy (who isn't intimidating unless "slept in my clothes disarray" strikes fear in you); and a beige-clad police detective with a black partner who uses words like "sheesh" and "broad." Yes, Freeway is one of those.
You would think that the concept of random highway slayings would evoke some fear. We see the killer stalk his victims, pull out his chrome-plated instrument of death, and blast away at windshields, heads, fuzzy dice, and other convenient highway targets. But the whole thing is so formulaic and frequent that we quickly become desensitized. There is no buildup of dramatic tension. We see the killer drive down the road, pop some people, and then drive away. We see him again, he kills again, then drives away. Maybe if we saw him buying tuna fish and .44 ammo at the Gas 'N Sip, got to know him a little…then we might be frightened.
Richard Belzer is well-cast as a disdainful radio personality. His flippant advice to distraught callers is an accurate satire of actual radio. Richard's persona has been honed over the years, so this young Belz seems surprising tame by comparison. You will probably be unsurprised to hear that James Russo underacts yet puffs with machismo. Billy Drago reprises his untouchable form of psychosis.
The detective duo of Boyle and Gomez (Michael Callan and Joe Palese) deserve special mention for their completely inept portrayal of sarcastic cops. These guys seem more interested in acting jaded than in acting. Sheesh, that broad is a pain in the keister, but whaddya gonna do?
Actually, the broad ain't half bad. Darlanne Fluegel is remarkably authentic, even when performing typical late night antics. For example, when she comes-home-after-work-and-undresses-right-before-the-hero-shows-up-so-that-she-has-to-throw-on-a-flimsy-nightie, the scene lacked the typical aura of voyeuristic affectation. When she shows-up-on-the-hero's-doorstep-and-breaks-down-in-tears-out-of-left-field, I forgot for a moment how unreasonable the scene was.
I can't imagine what extras would be included with this DVD. "Freeway 15th Anniversary Special: A Retrospective"? "Behind the Scenes: Making of a Terror Classic," perhaps? As you'd expect, we get a trailer and that's it.
The audio-visual quality is spectacularly unspectacular. The image is rather dark with weeping reds and poor contrast. The print is very clean, but I chalk that up to limited wear and tear on the negative (read: poor box office returns) rather than meticulous cleanup. The music has some neat riffs, Otherwise the soundtrack is undynamic, with truncated range and unconvincing effects.
If you have seen Freeway in the past and enjoyed it, you are one of the 500 people this DVD is marketed towards. Otherwise, it is an '80s movie without the nostalgic perks of an '80s movie.
What was this trial about again? Umm…skedaddle, all of you!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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