Originally produced as an HBO telepic, Matthew Bright's violent 1996 black comedy "Freeway" grew into a major cult favorite, largely due to Reese Witherspoon's astonishing turn as a nail-hard runaway matching wits with a serial killer (Kiefer Sutherland). Reprising some of the same themes, the writer-director's follow-up, "Freeway II: Confessions of a Trick Baby," is inferior in every aspect. Lacking the inspired performances as well as wit, suspense, energy and crisp storyline of the first film, it trades in a strained sensationalism that soon waxes surprisingly dull. Theatrical bookings are likely to be few, but pic can count on curiosity from the original's fan base as a rental item.

Originally produced as an HBO telepic, Matthew Bright’s violent 1996 black comedy “Freeway” grew into a major cult favorite, largely due to Reese Witherspoon’s astonishing turn as a nail-hard runaway matching wits with a serial killer (Kiefer Sutherland). Reprising some of the same themes, the writer-director’s follow-up, “Freeway II: Confessions of a Trick Baby,” is inferior in every aspect. Lacking the inspired performances as well as wit, suspense, energy and crisp storyline of the first film, it trades in a strained sensationalism that soon waxes surprisingly dull. Theatrical bookings are likely to be few, but pic can count on curiosity from the original’s fan base as a rental item.

Natasha Lyonne stars as Crystal, aka White Girl, who’s just received a 25 -year sentence for robbing prostitution clients. Sent to a juvenile facility until she’s old enough for the big house, she meets fellow inmate Cyclona (Maria Celedonio), a psychotic even more prone to violent outbursts. The two engineer an escape, fast attracting police pursuit as Cyclona kills anyone who crosses their path.

Fleeing across the border to Tijuana, they discover that Cyclona’s childhood protectress, Sister Gomez (Vincent Gallo), is in residence there, and hide out at her sinister cult headquarters. Just as “Freeway” toyed with macabre variations on the Little Red Riding Hood fable, “Trick Baby” offers a Hansel & Gretel spin as Sister Gomez turns out to be anything but a children’s advocate. A barely coherent finale lays waste to the latter’s perverted flock, while improbably leaving White Girl off the legal hook scot-free.

As willfully tasteless as the first film was, it nonetheless exerted tight control over tone and performances. No such discipline surfaces here, and the series of seriocomic sequences exploiting bulimia, drug use, lesbian sex and child abuse feel rudderless as well as cheesy. The press kit quotes Lyonne saying her character is “not just another chick in a short skirt acting out some guy’s fantasy of what a stereotypical bad girl is,” but that’s precisely the level “Trick Baby” operates on.

The usually accomplished Lyonne makes a sullen, one-dimensional protag, while Celedonio scarcely convinces as a schizoid maniac. Gallo, in his first role since directing “Buffalo 66″ (a bit in “Goodbye Lover” aside), contributes a convincing Mexican accent but little else; though it’s posited as a late “surprise,” Sister Gomez’s secret identity as a man in drag is laughably obvious from the start.

Subsidiary perfs are broad, lensing variable, other tech aspects adequate — aside from a bewildering preponderance of visible mikes.

Freeway II: Confessions of a Trick Baby

(BLACK COMEDY)

Production

A Kushner-Locke Intl. and Davis Film presentation of a Muse/Brad Wyman production in association with Incognito Entertainment. Produced by Brad Wyman, Chris Hanley. Executive producers, Peter Locke, Donald Kushner, Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida. Co-producer, Larry Abramson. Directed, written by Matthew Bright. Camera (color), Joel Ransom; editor, Suzanne Hines; music supervisor, Gerry Gershmann; production designer, Brian Davie; costumes, Katia Stano; sound (Dolby), Eric Batut; sound editor, Marcus Innocenti; makeup, Angelina P. Cameron; associate producer, Natasha Lyonne; casting, Mary Vernieu, Anne McCarthy. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, Sept. 30, 1999. (In Toronto Film Festival --- Midnight Madness.) MPAA rating: R. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

White Girl ..... Natasha Lyonne Cyclona ..... Maria Celedonio Sister Gomez ..... Vincent Gallo Mr. Butz ..... David Alan Grier Drifter ..... Michael T. Weiss Mrs. Wilson ..... April Telek
With: John Landis, Max Perlich, Bob Dawnson, Jenn Griffin.

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