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“Little Red Riding Hood: the crack whore years…”

Right from the opening credits, a debt to the Brothers Grimm is clear. In this modern-day version, Red’s stepfather is a sleazebag crackhead, and her mother a street hooker; when both get carted off to jail, Vanessa Lutz (Witherspoon) heads, with basket, up Interstate 5 towards Grandma’s house. Except that on the way, she meets Bob Wolverton (Sutherland), the notorious I-5 killer. And what big teeth he has!

From there, the tale diverges a bit: I don’t remember a prison catfight in the original, and recall Red relying more on a woodsman with a large axe than her own handguns, but it has been a while since I read it. This is, however, unashamedly grim with a small G. Er, and one m. :-) The Lutzs take “dysfunctional” to new levels, and it’s frankly astonishing that Vanessa has retained any sense of morality, albeit a severely skewed one. I wasn’t surprised when her only decent relationship was terminated by a drive-by.

The cast is a mixture of has-beens (Sutherland, before resurrection in 24, and Shields) and will-bes (Witherspoon and also Brittany Murphy), but all deliver fine performances. The weakest point is a script more concerned with satire than logic – would they really let a convicted arsonist carry a lighter in jail? No wonder Oliver Stone is a producer, given the undeniable echoes of Natural Born Killers. As a benchmark, at one point, when Vanessa shows Bob a photo of her “real” father, it’s actually serial killer Richard Speck. If that amuses – and must confess, it did us – this film is probably for you.

Dir: Matthew Bright
Star: Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine

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