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Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby
Posted 15 October 1999

by Sean Axmaker

Directed by Matthew Bright

Starring Natasha Lyonne, 
Maria Celedonio, Vincent Gallo, 
David Alan Grier, Michael T. Weiss, 
John Landis, and Max Perlich

Written by Matthew Bright

Chances are you haven’t heard of Freeway 2: Confessions Of A Trick Baby, a dark, edgy, and often hilarious satire of the social underbelly of inner-city crime and delinquency and the fantasy of escape in the freedom of the rural frontier. It wasn’t made for video but it landed there when it’s subject matter proved too touchy and the presentation too seemingly irreverent for any distributor to touch. That’s not a new story for writer/director Matthew Bright, whose genre bending efforts have all bypassed a theatrical run. His sympathetic rewrite of the “violent lovers on the run” Guncrazy, directed by Tamra Davis, wound up on cable where it earned a solid reputation as unconventional fare. His directoral debut, Freeway, opened in a handful of art houses, most of them after its video release. (His script for the recent Modern Vampires was pretty much destroyed by incompetent direction from Richard Elfman and after tryout screenings hit video, but the less said about this cinematic abortion the better.)

Bright’s neglect is a shame because whatever you think of his talents, he’s the most interesting genre-bender of the modern crop of young directors. For Freeway he turned the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” into a contemporary story of a girl practically orphaned by a dysfunctional drug dealing mom. Escaping her foster family existence, she searches for a loving environment from her grandmother, meanwhile pursued by a big bad wolf: a serial rapist who just happens to be a reform school counselor.

Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby plumbs similar territory while pushing the envelope even further, an exploitation teen rebel drama turned post-modern take on “Hansel and Gretel.” Natasha Lyonne (of The Slums of Beverly Hills and American Pie) plays Crystal, street name White Girl, a bulimic survivor of a parental neglect turned petty criminal but blasted by the system. Lyonne, also the executive producer of the film, is a genuine surprise. Slimmed down and punked out like a bleached blonde Fairuza Balk, she shrugs off the easy-going, laid-back quality of past performances to chomp down on the part with passion and verve. Neither repentant nor on the road to self improvement, she plays the part as a street survivor with attitude yet still genuine and feeling. Crystal is a hero by the very nature of her energy and drive and take-no-shit philosophy.

Dropped into a so-called treatment facility, to cure her bulimia before she’s sent up for her 25 year sentence, she and her cellmate Cyclona (Maria Celedonio) escape and hit the road. It’s a tenuous partnership as clear-headed Crystal continually deflects the advances of the lesbian serial killer Cyclona, who likes to masturbate while talking to phantom lovers, and continually takes her to task for the trail of corpses she leaves in her wake. Their goal is to cross the border into Mexico, where Cyclona is convinced that the one person from her past to ever show her any love, the mysterious Sister Gomez, will protect them from harm. Gomez, as played by the generally explosive indie stalwart Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66, The Funeral), speaks in hushed soothing tones, hunches in what seems perpetual prayer, and shuffles in tiny steps while wrapped in a habit. Throwing off the mannerisms and abrasive, argumentative personality that have defined his urban characters to date, Gallo offers a genuinely creepy figure whose promise of salvation sounds questionable at best. But she does serve a nice table and starts stuffing Crystal (along with a parade of little kids who show up at the table with big grins and empty stomachs), who soon finds the strength to fight her bulimia. But Gomez has a secret that Crystal, in her darkest nightmares, would never guess.

It takes over half the film for “Hansel and Gretel” to enter the equation (which first surfaces in a truly twisted reinterpretation of the trail of breadcrumbs), but Bright uses that time for a scathing take on the plight of inner-city youths failed by their families, victims of a socially polluted environment, and rejects of a system looking to punish rather than heal. All that sounds pretentious, but Bright makes it a savage and darkly funny satire, directed with energy to burn as he walks the knife’s edge of humor and horror. In lock-up Crystal becomes the rebellious ringleader of a gang of anorexic delinquents, indulging in midnight binge-and-purge feasts and leading a ritualistic post-lunch vomit which Bright plays as a Hollywood musical number, the girls hitting their marks as if choreographed to the beat of a Busby Berkeley routine. (This is not a film to watch over a meal.) Crystal and Cyclona become Bonnie and Clyde by way of The Odd Couple: “You’re a goddammed serial killer,” Crystal screams at Cyclona when she catches her masturbating over the dead bodies of two recent kills. The fragile Cyclona, bloody and sweaty but emotionally fragile, shoots back, “I don’t need to be called names right now.” Crystal’s hedonistic but oddly sincere and persistent lawyer (David Alan Grier, who manages to make the sleaze almost likable) talks to cops while another young, female client gives him a hand-job, neither of them breaking their rhythm in front of the incredulous detectives.

Bright ups the ante in Mexico by delving into genuinely transgressive material. As in the original Freeway he’s not content to play the figures of horror as simple villains but genuine monsters of the modern age and for this he touches on issues that are likely to get under the skin of even the most stalwart viewers: child abuse, rape and torture, kiddie porn, even cannibalism (none of this is shown or simulated, but the evidence is fairly obvious). Bright finds nothing funny in this and suspends his satire for the horror to sink in, but while there’s a certain catharsis in his post-modern interpretation of a happy ending there’s also a dark humor and cynical sting to it. Unfortunately, the climax has an obligatory nature to it, a genre staple shoot-out that is neither effectively set-up nor dramatically appropriate (Crystal has shown no facility with guns to this point, yet she makes out like Chow Yun-fat), but it’s forgiven in the scenes that follow, including a poignant reference to Of Mice and Men, played in all seriousness.

What makes it all work is Bright’s respect for the characters: he has nothing but sympathy for Crystal and Cyclona because he understands the nightmares that drive them and the frustrated forces within in them made slaves to their past horrors. When all is said and done Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby is a much more thoughtful and resonant film than Oliver Stone’s pretentious, cynically callow Natural Born Killers, which is nothing more than cinematic bombast passing as social commentary. Bright makes fewer claims (modesty is another of this film’s virtues) and offers more insight, but never at the expense of the entertainment. In that sense Bright has made one of the best genuine B movies to hit screens in a long time, a film that delivers the visceral with verve, the excessive with gusto, and the cinematic with style, and even offers a little food for thought on the side.

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