Gotta hand it to Julianne Moore she's turned in a piece of overacting even the Oscars would be embarrassed to honor. In Freedomland, Moore's Brenda Martin shows up dazed and bloodied at a New Jersey hospital, proclaiming herself the victim of a late-night carjacking. For close to two hours, the actress proceeds to weep, wail, gnash her teeth, smash her bandaged hands against walls and flail around the screen like Linda Blair on uppers.
The reason for this Method meltdown is that Martin's 4-year-old son was in the car when it was taken a detail she finally reveals after several pages of scripted questioning by Det. Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson). Shouldn't the authorities be worried when a mother wanders into a hospital crying that someone took her car, not her baby? Downplaying that quibble is typical of this hysterically undisciplined film, which uses its missing-person plot as the springboard for an overheated culture clash. The police impose a lockdown in the projects from which Martin's kid was supposedly snatched, inspiring an instant uprising on the part of the angry residents.
The interminable verbal altercations are steeped in ostentatious street lingo (everybody is "feelin'" something or someone else) and grandiose pontificating about the nature of God and destiny. Jackson emerges the closest to unscathed, giving the latest in a long string of the eminently credible performances he will continue to essay in unworthy movies until he becomes a complete laughingstock. Later, Edie Falco shows up as the leader of a concerned-citizens group, helping to compensate for Moore's criminal scenery-chewing and her awful Joisey accent.
Though the story is obviously a Susan Smith takeoff, writer Richard Price (adapting his novel) treats its core precepts with surprising timidity OK, let's call it cowardice. Making sure to give his black detective a white partner and to show us happily integrated schools and search parties, he lacks the conviction to deliver a decent Us-versus-Them story. In the end, Freedomland merely pits Some of Us against Some of Them, and you don't have to be a detective to know that's a big cop-out.