1992 science fiction film “The Lawnmower Man” is loosely based on (read: bears no resemblance to) the Stephen King story of the same name. However, despite its drastic departure to the source text, this sci-fi horror flick is a total gem. “The Lawnmower Man” is far from a perfect movie, but it’s a thought-provoking glimpse at virtual reality (VR).
Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) is a brilliant scientist working for Virtual Space Industries where he experiments with chimpanzees. Angelo’s work centers on a combination of drugs and virtual reality to tap into the level of intelligence in chimps. While Lawrence prefers studying the potential to unlock intellect in his subjects, financial backers desire military applications.
After an experiment goes awry, Angelo takes a bit of time off and sinks into a minor depression. His unhappy wife Caroline (Colleen Coffey) leaves, and Angelo mostly lounges about drinking heavily ( which unintentionally foreshadows Brosnan’s stint as James Bond). During this time, Lawrence secretly recruits the intellectually challenged landscaper Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) as a human test subject to continue his experiments. The tests perform marvelously, and even a bit too well. Soon, Jobe develops telekinetic and pyrokinetic power, advancing well beyond standard human ability and intelligence.
“The Lawnmower Man” strives to provide a groundbreaking exploration of tech, specifically VR. Initially, the movie accomplishes this feat. Since a main goal of virtual reality and augmented reality aims to work in conjunction with humanity, probing real-world applications like warfare makes sense.
The characters are enjoyable, and “The Lawnmower Man” sets up interpersonal relationships well. Jobe’s friendship with young boy Peter Parkette (Austin O’Brien) serves to set up characters as well as offer a baseline for Jobe’s intellectual evolution. As the film progresses, Jobe distances himself from Peter through losing fascination in their shared interests as well as surpassing Peter in skill level.
Unfortunately, the plot is dreadfully predictible. It’s clear from the opening credits exactly where the movie is going. That’s not necessarily a major issue, just don’t expect many surprises. Moerover, the effects are pretty poor. 1983 sci-fi thriller “Brainstorm” features better special effects than the decade-later “The Lawnmower Man.” Between its shoddy animation and melodramatic vibe, “The Lawnmower Man” oozes an unintended camp factor.
However, the exploration of virtual reality remains a spectacular concept. It’s underdeveloped, but still a redeeming quality. Plus, despite its mundane qualities “The Lawnmower Man” is simply a fun sci-fi horror flick. It’s packed with cheesiness, corny animation, and a cliche story line. But with the likes of Brosnan and Dean Norris as the ominiously-named “The Director” (looking exactly like a pre-“Breaking Bad” Hank), it’s a lovable film nonetheless.
Is “The Lawnmower Man” a great film? No. But it’s a delightfully hilarious movie with a storied production. Author Stephen King sued the producers and distributors of “The Lawnmower Man” correctly stating that the movie had almost nothing in common with the source text. Amidst its underwhelming special effects and laughable plot, “The Lawnmower Man” remains one of my guilty pleasure, popcorn flick, favorites.