The Lawnmower Man
Finally, a movie about lawn care
In the late 80's and early 90's, virtual reality was the way of the future. The entertainment expected to be living and working in a virtual world and brought us computer-graphic heavy television like Reboot and Beast Wars. There was even a video game console put out by Nintendo called the Virtual Boy. Things didn't quite work out the way people were expecting and virtual reality has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. Blame probably goes to the internet, but plenty should go to the terrible movies that came out around that time praising virtual reality while throwing terrible graphics at the audience. But a movie can't be bad when it's based off a Stephen King story, right? Right?
The Lawnmower Man is a 1992 science-fiction horror movie starring Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye, Dante's Peak) as Dr. Lawrence Angelo and Jeff Fahey (Lost, The Marshal) as Jobe Smith. Dr. Angelo works for Virtual Space Industries, which is under the employ of a shadowy group known as The Shop. conducting experimental treatments and virtual reality trainin on increasing the intelligence of chimps. VSI is hoping to use Angelo's work to create a new weapon, but one of the chimps escapes and is killed. Angelo begins to experiment at his home on Jobe Smith, a special needs man who mows lawns. Jobe is lives a simple life, living in a garden shed owned by Father McKeen. McKeen routinely beats Jobe with a belt whenever he fails to do his chores. As the experiments continue, Jobe's intelligence begins to increase. He also becomes more self aware of his emotions and desires. He begins to have a relationship with a local woman named Marnie. Angelo takes Jobe to VSI to continue his experiments, exposing Jobe to the virtual reality machines there. Jobe begins to exhibit telepathic and telekinetic abilities, reading people's thoughts and lifting objects with his mind. The Shop takes an interest in Jobe and secretly increases his aggression levels, similar to what was done to the chimp before its escape. Jobe begins to lose his mental stability, acquiring a God complex. He uses his abilities to kill those who wronged him, such as Father McKeen. Jobe believes he has unlocked the keys to the mind and believes that by connecting himself inside VSI's computer mainframe, he will reach every computer system in the world. Will Dr. Angelo be able to stop him?
Trey Parker, is that you?
It's true that Stephen King wrote a short story called The Lawnmower Man, but save for one brief scene, this movie has absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King. It is so far removed from his work that King successfully sued the film's producers for using his name. It's with good reason that he decided to sue the makers of this movie because I know I wouldn't want my name associated with it. The story is pretty weak and falls into a cliche-a-thon very quickly. Lawnmower Man has the magical “simple” character, the pacifist scientist being forced to make a weapon, and even a horny cougar wanting to bone the simple character. The movie is very heavy-handed when it comes to the religious overtones, throwing subtlety out the window in favor of a computerized crucifixion scene. There is some action throughout, but it's not particularly thrilling or entertaining. There are a few scenes of creepiness, but nothing that would qualify as scary.
The biggest problem with The Lawnmower Man is that it is a victim of it's time. Virtual reality was the “in” thing with everyone touting it as the wave of the future. That being the case, the movie relies heavily on computer graphics. Normally, this might not be a bad thing, but keep in mind that this movie came out in 1992. Try to remember what computer graphics looked like in the early 90's. What looked futuristic then looks completely ridiculous 20 years now (yes it's been 20 years since this movie was released if you can believe it). A good chunk of the movie uses these graphics hoping to dazzle the audience rather than creating a cohesive and entertaining story. It's funny to see a young Pierce Brosnan with longer, almost grunge hair and a hoop earring. He looks like he's ready to go see Lollapalooza, not conduct futuristic experiments. Jeff Fahey is OK in his role, but tends to chew the scenery towards the end. His haircut was out of place as he looked like he should be a starting forward for the 1977 Philadelphia Flyers, not a man in the 90's. It's not a critical part of the movie, but when you're bored, you notice little things. The movie is full of unintentional comedy, from the hilariously dated graphics, to the cartoonish storyline and overacting.
Originally, The Lawnmower Man was not a bad concept for a movie. Today, we are so plugged in all the time that it still relates to today. Unfortunately, the movie bet on the wrong horse in terms of virtual reality, and it doesn't hold up 20 years later. The movie focuses far too much on computerized effects and graphics which look terribly by today's standards. A barely-there story, questionable acting, and unintentional laughs doom the movie. In it's time, The Lawnmower Man was a cutting-edge movie with some serious, if not heavy-handed, social commentary. The commentary still holds up, but the rest of the movie does not.