“The Lawnmower Man” and Why it Sucks!

The year was 1992 and the science fiction of virtual reality was slowly becoming actual reality . . . VR was a buzzword and over priced, and definitely over sized, VR goggles allowed you play mind dizzying games that made Minecraft look realistic. That summer one film came along that looked like it would be the ultimate Cyberpunk Virtual Reality film . . . that film was Lawnmower Man . . . and it stank!

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The Lawnmower Man started life as short story by Stephen King, originally published in the May 1975 issue of Cavalier magazine and later in King’s Night Shift anthology of shorts. Let us be clear, King’s story has NOTHING to do with virtual reality! There is a lawnmower in both stories, and aside from a scene in which the self propelled lawnmower chases a victim around the room, included in the film for the most extreme loosest of book to screen adaptations, there is NOTHING that binds the film to the original material. The film was initially marketed as Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, but King sued the film’s producers and managed to have his name removed from the film . . . that being said, the short story is not that good either.

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With three more years until he finally became James Bond, Pierce Brosnan plays Dr. Lawrence Angelo whose unconventional experiments on chimps with intelligence serum and virtual reality is shut down after an augmented chimp breaks out and causes havoc with a gun. Lacking a test subject Angelo encounters Jobe Smith, played by Jeff Fahey, the lovable village idiot whose biggest joy in life is mowing lawns. Jobe is a fully grown man, but he has the innocent mind of a child, making him the target of the town’s various bullies.

Anglo administers the serum on Jobe and expands the young man’s mind via the use of virtual reality, however, as with SO MANY sci-fi horror films, the experiment gets out of control . . . as does the plot line at this point. What started as an okay, cyberpunk slash virtual reality film then devolves in a very weak horror movie as the newly megalomaniacal Jobe develops super intelligence and psychic powers. Jobe uses his powers to extract revenge on all the town bullies and plots to take over the world by uploading himself into the virtual reality world . . . can Dr. Angelo stop him?

The performances in this film are so-so . . . one suspects that Brosnan was merely biding his time until he could begin filming as Bond (he was supposed have replaced Roger Moore in 1987), and Fahey’s portrayal of innocent unintelligent Jobe feels as cliché as Ben Stiller’s performance as “Simple Jack” in Tropic Thunder.

Lawnmower Man VR Sex 680For the early 90’s the computer animation of the virtual world was pretty exciting, and a chief selling point of the film was the promise of visually mind bending trippy cybersex that brought a whole new meaning to the term “sucking face.” Despite the virtual reality plot being weak, it is a fun ride, but as mentioned above, the true weakness of the film is when it tries to become a horror film . . . trying to hold on to the sinews that might make it a Stephen King story. King’s name ended up coming off of the film just before its release, but the film could have been so much better if it made no pretense to the short story in the first place . . . the lawnmower is the least central part of the plot, but it is a giant handicap for the narrative.

The film was made for $10 million and did manage to triple its money at the box office, but as with so many films that we love to hate, it is the potential of the film that is so frustrating; this could have been a good film, and maybe going into it with low expectations will give you less distance for your disappointment to fall. Rotten Tomatoes rates the film at 38%, and chances are that you have something better to watch with 103 minutes of your life, but yet there is something distinctly nostalgic about this film that makes it hard to totally dismiss.


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