From its dreary title to its tedious and interminable special effects, THE LAWNMOWER MAN is yet another bad example of a genre whose good ones can be counted on the fingers of one hand--the Stephen King Movie.
It may seem glib and lazy to call Stephen King Movies a genre, given that they range in subject matter from horror and science fiction to the occasional straightforward drama, and that his active participation in their production varies tremendously. But sheer numbers (some two dozen films to date
and no end in sight) demand it, and the films are characterized by a crudity and brutal obviousness that almost invariably overwhelm the sensibilities of all other participants.
With the exceptions of CARRIE, STAND BY ME and possibly THE SHINING, movies adapted from King's novels and short stories, as well as those from his original screenplays, are a sorry bunch. Given that THE LAWNMOWER MAN takes little from King beyond the title (at the time of the film's release he
went public with his complaints that distributor New Line Cinema was cashing in on his name, though the fuss seemed suspiciously like an excuse to hype STEPHEN KING'S SLEEPWALKERS, which was released soon after), it may seem unfair to include it in the King ouevre, but life isn't fair.
Good natured Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) is the simple minded ward of a small-town church. Abused by his guardian, a perverted priest, Father Mckeen (Jeremy Slate), and exploited and mocked by many of the townspeople, Jobe still manages to achieve some small measure of happiness reading comic books,
playing innocently with local children and mowing lawns. He's that hoary movie cliche, the happy idiot, and as such is ripe for what happens next. Handsome, principled Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) works for a secret government agency, and his latest experiment has gone very wrong. Using a
mixture of drug therapy and computer instruction (this is where the movie's gimmick, virtual reality, comes in), Angelo has figured out a way to make chimpanzees smarter. But his latest success has gone on a violent rampage and has had to be destroyed. Angelo, already afraid that his work will be
exploited for its military applications, agrees to take a leave of absence, but soon finds himself bored and restless. What could be more natural than for him to decide to continue his experiments at home on a human subject ... say, the retarded guy who mows his lawn?
If the inevitable course of the action isn't already clear, it becomes so once one has said that THE LAWNMOWER MAN is CHARLY by way of TRON. Jobe becomes progressively more intelligent, a change that dismays some--like the priest who finds he can no longer beat and terrorize him with impunity--and
delights others, notably hot-to-trot young widow Marnie Burke (Jenny Wright) who never noticed Jobe's rippling muscles until his new, improved intellect moved him to take off his shirt on hot summer days. Perhaps everything would have been alright if Dr. Angelo's old employers had been able to
resist the temptation to tamper with the formula, but tamper they do, and Jobe becomes a psychopath with messianic fantasies of world domination. Like some humanoid computer virus, he intends to invade the world's computers and show humanity the way to better living through subordination to
computer generated "reality." It's up to Dr. Angelo to stop him before mankind is reduced to a hoard of mindless video-addicted zombies.
THE LAWNMOWER MAN's selling point--aside from King's name--was its extensive use of simulated virtual reality, a movie first. Virtual reality technology allows users to don special goggles and gloves and explore computer generated environments without ever leaving their chairs. The implications
are pretty obvious ("What's next, f**king?" asks Angelo's wife peevishly when she catches him hooked up to a program that fakes the alliterative sensations of flying, floating and falling), and much screen time is given over to the computer worlds Angelo has designed. How much one enjoys these
sequences is directly related to how much one loves state-of-the-art video game graphics, all liquid metal edges and bright, clean colors. What THE LAWNMOWER MAN's effects don't--in fact, can't--do is give the viewer the sense of experiencing a false three-dimensional reality, and that's a real
drawback: it robs the "virtual reality" sequences of the only thing that might make them seem fresh and novel.
Movies from THE LAST STARFIGHTER to TRON (so dated that it's painful to watch) have put video game images on screen, and it's pretty dull stuff. Virtual reality aside, THE LAWNMOWER MAN suffers all the usual problems: the cliched story is further undermined by wooden performances (Fahey, his
naturally dark hair stripped to the consistancy of a Harpo Marx fright wig, is particularly excruciating) and the inevitable unhappy ending, in which a chorus of telephones ring in a scary new world. (Sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: From its dreary title to its tedious and interminable special effects, THE LAWNMOWER MAN is yet another bad example of a genre whose good ones can be counted on the fingers of one hand--the Stephen King Movie. It may seem glib and lazy to call Stephen Kin… (more)