The Lawnmower Man – #2 film in the US (Mar. 6 – 8)
All-Time Domestic & Worldwide $32,100,816
The Lawnmower Man is a window into the 90s fear and obsession with virtual reality in “so bad, it’s good” vision.
The 90s were obsessed with the concept of virtual reality. The idea with VR was how it can enhance how we look at the world, how we innovate, and how it can take us into our wildest dreams. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy came from this and faltered. Malls and theaters had Virtuality systems in their lobbies and halls which went away in a whimper. VR went from future to fad in due time.
Now, VR exists as an outlet for the dream of Meta’s “metaverse” that seems to make everyone cringe. It’s been regulated to a gaming accessory for PlayStation 4, PC, and soon PlayStation 5. I own a Meta Quest 2 and it only comes out every so often to play with friends and family. It’s an impressive technology at best, an expensive technological novelty at worst. That’s what makes The Lawnmower Man fascinating to watch and be in.
It’s such an archaic window into the fears of what VR can do with a little bit of Satanic panic thrown in for good measure. It initially had Stephen King attached as the title borrows from his short story, yet it used another script titled Cyber God. King sued to get his name off the film, not because he didn’t like it, but because it wasn’t his short story. That short story is about a naked man who eats up grass to get the job done (I’d pay money to see that. It would be better than Thinner).
The Lawnmower Man has Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) working on VR projects to elevate the intelligence of humans with the experiment. After a chimp grows aggressive and escapes, (or dies in a shootout if you watch the Director’s Cut), Angelo turns his attention to a lawnmower man named Jobe (Jeff Fahey). He is intellectually disabled. Angelo hopes to have his experiments help him combat his disabled state to a higher level of intelligence. As the experimentation grows, Jobe becomes more intellectual than ever. He becomes obsessed with going beyond the physical world to take over the digital world as a cyber god. He even develops mind reading and telekinetic powers. It’s up to Angelo to stop Jobe from achieving his goal of becoming “bigger than Jesus.”
The Lawnmower Man can be considered a bad movie, but it’s so damn bonkers that it’s kind of a banger of a film. To be honest, I was worried given the plot and how the trailer portrayed Jobe. The tagline on the poster furthers that saying “God made him simple. Science made him a god.” The portrayal is rough around the edges, much like Hudson’s in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle prior. There’s no forgiving the film for that.
Fahey does give a solid performance showing the transition into the intellectual being. Fahey goes from likable to absolute menace on a dime and nails it. The scene where he harms his love interest Marnie (Jenny Wright) is chilling as he thinks it would have been fun but goes too far. It also seems like the beginning of how dangerous and far he could go to get what he wants disregarding others. He has a cold menace to him during this time that Fahey exudes in every line and delivers. He manages to do this in a silly Tron-Esque getup too which is also no easy feat to make serious.
Brosnan as a manic scientist is gold as well. He is determined to ensure that his experiments are only for the positive. He shows his unease as the story goes on. He becomes more upset and infuriated at how the Shop treats him and his experiment. He also captures his quiet obsession with VR quite well too. Brosnan was in flux during this time thanks to Timothy Dalton having to step into the James Bond role in 1987. He was still contracted to being Remington Steele on the show of the same name on NBC, so he lost out on the chance. In 1995, this would come to pass thanks to the brilliant Goldeneye.
The visual effects are the reason anyone came to see this movie and they do not hold up. Well, with some caveats. For what it’s worth, the effects for the VR itself are not bad given they are programs based on video games. This is quite akin to how video games barely had a handle on 3D effects. StarFox for the Super Nintendo would be the first big console release of anything replicating it thanks to the Super FX chip alongside Myst. Yet, those are 1993 releases. It works for the time and it is impressive they managed to pull off that video game look and feel. It is an elevated version of try, but instead of backlit animation and primitive CGI, it’s all CGI.
It isn’t the best when compared to Terminator 2: Judgment Day the year prior or Jurassic Park the next year over, but it has an identity all its own. It makes it stand out from the pack. One studio behind the CGI work was Angel Studios which helped bring to life the virtual sex scene in the film and various other scenes. It looks as weird as it sounds. This studio would go on to become Rockstar San Diego. They developed the Midnight Club racing series and the masterpiece Red Dead Redemption. Shoutout to my artist pal Mark Martinez for that bit of trivia.
Yet, the effects outside of VR are not the best. They are choppy at best sticking out like a sore thumb. The actors are not blended well with them either. This leads to hysterical moments such as a swarm of digital bees coming to attack guards with flailing and waving aplenty. The sequences of people turned into marbles are funnier than anything. Yet, there are practical effects in the film as well. A building gets blown up with a miniature and it looks fantastic. A telekinetic-possessed lawnmower wreaks havoc into a man’s face via puppetry. In the director’s cut, they have a man in a chimp suit play dead after being shot from a tree. It’s noticeable, but it’s incredible regardless of that fact.
The story itself is the weakest part of the movie, yet the spectacle makes up for it. Looking back on it with what is known about VR makes it a hilarious window in time. I still remember one line that says “By 2001, everyone will be plugged in” and I laughed so hard. As mentioned, VR is still quite inaccessible and not everyone is blown away by it. It’s limited in its scope no matter how much Mark Zuckerberg really wants to let you know it’s the future. I get over it after an hour and go about my day. The idea that it could corrupt and make people more intelligent was baffling. If anything, VR made me more fearful of square blocks hitting my face while “POP/STARS” by K/DA plays in the background in Beat Saber.
The Lawnmower Man is an excellent “so bad, it’s good” film. It’s saved by Fahey’s performance and the spectacular-for-its-time CGI sequences. The effects outside of the VR sequences are quite dated and the story is laughable. Yet, the film is still entertaining unlike the other blunders encountered so far.
Revue Rating: 3 out of 5
Next time, Vinny Laguardia Gambini is going down south to get some boys out of a rut. Plus, Marisa Tomei wins an Oscar. It’s time for a visit from My Cousin Vinny.