Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television
I’m trying to remember if I saw the entirety of The Lawnmower Man before this recent watch. I distinctly remember parts of it, but there was also at least one game based on the movie released, so my memories may come from there. It’s also a case of one of the most interesting lawsuits ever filed regarding a movie. We’re told that this is Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, but King won a multimillion dollar lawsuit to have his name removed from the film since it has virtually nothing to do with the short story he wrote. His story was about a lawncare service run by a satyr who used lawn mowing as a sort of sacrifice to Pan. The movie is a version of “Flowers for Algernon” involving a guy who mows lawns and the emerging technology of virtual reality.
So where do I begin with this ridiculousness? We’re introduced to Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan), who is working in the VR world. Specifically, he is experimenting with psychoactive drugs in chimps, putting them into VR simulations and attempting to enhance their cognitive abilities. Over time, we learn that despite Angelo’s intent to use this technology for things like Alzheimer’s research, the project is actually being run but The Shop, the fictional branch of the government that exists in several Stephen King works (The Dead Zone and Firestarter come to mind). Of course, they have military goals for this, and a new strain of drugs has had adverse reactions on the chimps. Angelo decides on his own to start over and recruits Jobe (Jeff Fahey), the intellectually simple groundskeeper in his area. Angelo and Jobe start to experiment, and Jobe adapts quickly to virtual reality and his cognitive abilities grow.
But the progress is slow. The director of The Shop (Dean Norris) instructs his man Timms (Mark Bringelson) on the ground working with Angelo to get Angelo to start using the same drug protocols that caused the chimps to become aggressive. Since Angelo won’t comply, Timms simply changes the labels on the medications, and we’re off to the races. Jobe not only becomes wildly intelligent, he starts to develop telekinetic and psychokinetic abilities.
But, of course Jobe is now being given chemicals that make him aggressive, so he starts taking out his aggressions on the people who were regularly mean to him when he was mentally deficient. Ultimately, Jobe hopes to upload himself into the primitive internet and become a completely virtual being made entirely of electricity. You can probably see where this is going.
As far as what is wrong with The Lawnmower Man, I’m not even sure where to start, but I have to start somewhere. That being the case, I suppose I’ll begin with the fact that this plot reads like it was produced by a computer fed a few thousand cheap sci-fi plots and told to print out something similar. Every single part of this that isn’t telegraphed from a hundred science fiction films that proceeded this one is telegraphed by its clear connection to “Flowers for Algernon.” It’s a very basic “science is evil” story, or perhaps a “science in the hands of the government is evil” story. Any horror/science fiction film that involves a new technology is going to involve a rogue scientist pushing the envelope just a little more or going just a little too far because “We’ve come this far! We can’t back out now!”
It’s also worth noting that the virtual reality in this movie, while it 1might well have been state of the art in 1992, looks ridiculous now. Brightly-colored vague mannequins flopping around and flying through bright-colored triangles no longer looks like anything that anyone cares about, but boy do we get a lot of it. This doesn’t begin to address the very weird virtual reality sex scene that might be the least-sexy scene of consensual sex I have ever witnessed.
It’s also worth saying that The Lawnmower Man is very unpleasant in how it treats Jobe throughout. In his simple-minded form, most of the people around him are decent to him (there will always be some who like to take advantage of those with mental disabilities), but Jobe himself is a caricature of the highest order. Do we need him to have the uncombed mop of wheat straw hair or his evident inability to hook up both sides of his overalls? It’s embarrassing.
I can only barely believe that this thing spawned a sequel. At least virtually everyone involved in this one had the smarts to avoid being a part of the one that followed.
Why to watch The Lawnmower Man: To see just how far we’ve come.
Why not to watch: Everything about this movie is ridiculous.