When I heard the title, The Lawnmower Man, what crossed my mind was a serial killer whose weapon of choice was a lawnmower, especially since I discovered it was based on a story by Stephen King. A trippy, Tron-like science fiction film is probably the last thing I expected, but that’s what it is.
Did I say based on Stephen King? I meant inspired by Stephen King. Okay, no. I mean they made a movie that shared the title with a short story by King, who had the following to say: “The movie bore no meaningful resemblance to my story”. He then sued the filmmakers for attaching his name to the title. Honestly, I find that story a bit funny. The Lawnmower Man is nevertheless a film that starts off somewhat touching but it becomes increasingly pointless to even attempt to take it seriously, especially when a killer with a lawnmower does show up briefly.
Pierce Brosnan plays Dr. Angelo, a scientist hired by Virtual Space Industries, where he works to increase the intelligence of a chimp using special drugs and virtual reality. Yes, the film is about virtual reality and how somehow it makes one smarter. The experiment works but the now intelligent chimp escapes the lab and finds shelter in a shack near the local church. There he befriends a mentally retarded but kind greenskeeper Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) who was harshly raised by the local priest Father McKeen (Jeremy Slate) and with more love by McKeen’s brother Terry (Geoffrey Love). The chimp gets killed eventually, devastating Jobe. So yes, Jobe is the titular lawnmower man.
This isn’t the last Angelo sees of Jobe, though. Angelo decides to run the same experiment on Jobe and make him less of an idiot that gets pushed around by all. After showing Jobe and a local boy named Peter (Austin O’Brien) some virtual reality games, he convinces Jobe to take part in the procedure. Indeed, the experiment does make Jobe smart. He is finally able to stand up to local bully Jake (John Laughlin) and to flirt with a local girl named Marnie (Jenny Wright). At one point, Jobe brings Marnie into the virtual reality-machine and they have cyber sex. Was my laughter during this scene intended?
The experiment, however, also makes Jobe more evil and for some reason he acquires telekinetic powers as well, and the ways he gets his revenge on Jake and Father McKeen get truly gruesome. One of the most laughable scenes in the film is Jobe using his abilities to set McKeen on fire. Trying to generate CG-fire is not something these filmmakers should’ve attempted.
The Lawnmower Man provides us with silly imagery, hammy performances, a story that makes little sense and religious overtones all over the place. A synthesized choir provides most of the soundtrack for the whole thing. Something I liked, though, was the character of Jobe as well as Fahey’s portrayal of him, at least until he becomes a cheesy killing machine who Angelo has to stop before he goes back into the machine and becomes the greatest virus known to man. I dare you to watch the scene where he kills Peter’s mean father without laughing at least a little bit. Nevertheless, as he was evolving, Jobe was a rather fascinating character.
The virtual reality is interesting to look at but far from impressive. It looks much more like virtual than it looks like reality and compared to the CGI in The Abyss and Terminator 2, which both came out before The Lawnmower Man, it looks quite awful at times, particularly scenes that look like they belong in one of those MrChriddof-videos on YouTube. But then again, James Cameron had much more money and could therefor afford more outstanding visual effects. I’m not sure the makers of this film were very rich.
Speaking of Terminator 2, I looked at a picture of one of the DVD covers for this film and my jaw dropped when the critic’s quote stated that The Lawnmower Man is even better than Terminator 2. I could not believe someone sat down and wrote that. Reminds me of the text that claimed Highlander 2 is the smartest sci-fi thriller since Blade Runner. No. Does not compute! You just don’t write something like that.
Someone has already made the joke that if these people made another film, set in space, it would probably be called The Leafblower Man. I on the other hand, think they would try to cash in on Stephen King again by putting a stuffed clown in it and call it It.