The Lawnmower Man (1992)/Beyond Cyberspace (1996)
The Lawnmower Man – It’s easy enough to see why Stephen King fought to have his name removed from this movie, bearing so little relation to the original story it lifts its name from (with the exception of one memorable scene lifted almost directly from the short story), but it must also be said that King has had his name attached to many other inferior works and his taste is not always impeccable.
What we have here is the story of Dr. Lawrence Angelo (played by Pierce Brosnan), a man trying to harness the use of virtual reality for good despite having to also experiment on monkeys for military purposes (and yeah, you can guess how THAT turns out). Taking a break from official business, the good doc decides to start experimenting with simple, good-natured Jobe (played by Jeff Fahey) and to see just how much he can help this simple man become a more intelligent specimen. Things start to work beyond his wildest dreams but it’s not long before a snowball effect begins, corrupting and paining Jobe, that the doctor seems unable to stop. Rifts are caused and then, inevitably, suffering to those who Jobe feels need to be given their comeuppance.
Oh, how we gasped and oohed and aahed at the time of this film’s release with its cutting-edge effects and its shiny harnessing of computer power. Funny how much difference a short span of time can make with everything now looking as if it was filtered through a Spectrum 48K and nothing even coming close to the realities we can now see on a daily basis thanks to programmers and pixels.
Yet, despite its quick dating, the movie is a slice of enjoyable hokum that can get by despite its dodgy FX work. Brosnan and Fahey do very well to deliver some nonsense lines with straight faces and the actors also give just enough to their roles to invest them with a little humanity that sees you genuinely caring about the final outcome. Well, they did for me anyway. The rest of the cast are pretty forgettable although the young lad who is friends with Jobe is alright and Geoffrey Lewis is brilliant with the little screen time he has.
Director Brett Leonard may have upset Stephen King, Stephen King fans and CGI-lovers everywhere but he also gave us a movie that does contain some good moments and does actually deliver its central ideas quite well. It may fade into obscurity but I, for one, will still recommend it as a harmless diversion.
Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace – Let’s face it, the world needed a sequel to The Lawnmower Man like I needed more pimples back in 1996 but both came along anyway and here we are.
After the events of the first movie, Jobe has been found. He’s a shell of his former self but his mind is still as brilliant as it was and he’s alive. He’s also now played by Matt Frewer (who was surely bored of all this VR stuff by the time he stopped being Max Headroom). Young Peter (Austin O’Brien – the only cast member for the first movie to make the mistake of returning) is a bit older and running about with a bunch of cyber-punk-ish kids while the world has managed to go from normality to bizarre future cityscape in only 10 years, it would appear. One devious rich man (played by Kevin Conway) wants Jobe to build him a chip that will end up making him the most powerful figure in the world of virtual reality and Jobe agrees to this only while making his own plans. But the chip is the brainchild of Dr. Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin), a man who ran away from his prospective future when he sense what was further down the line. Jobe wants the doctor and so asks Peter to help him but it’s not long before Peter realises just how much Jobe has changed since their early days of friendship. But can he be stopped?
It’s hard to know just where to start with picking apart this sloppy sequel. Clearly, the writing seems to have lazily taken the elements required to get from A to B and then just shoehorned whatever the hell needed to facilitate the journey in there. None of the characters are fleshed out and there’s nobody you really care for.
The acting is so-so. Austin O’Brien is okay, Matt Frewer can do better and Patrick Bergin simply leaves you wondering how he was ever close to being leading man material. He’s just so unappealing and nondescript here that it’s almost painful to watch. Elsewhere, Kevin Conway has the occasional fun moment and does okay while Ely Pouget is the female scientist who used to be in a relationship with Dr. Trace and yada yada yada yawn. Join the dots.
I think it’s safe to say that most of the blame here should be levelled at Farhad Mann, who directed and also wrote the screenplay. It’s clear in almost every scene that everything was written as an excuse to get some more computer effects in there. That wouldn’t be so bad if the effects were great but, sadly, they’re not. Watching something like Tron nowadays is a real treat and the film has aged in a very cool retro way but watching this is akin to watching someone playing a Pong championship while all you can do is wait to see who wins and try to work up some excitement as things move towards a final that you don’t really care about.
There is some fun to be had here but it’s the stuff that you make for yourself, by picking apart the gaping plot holes and generally mocking the appalling choices made by characters onscreen. As a movie in it’s own right it’s pretty awful but as a sequel to The Lawnmower Man . . . . . . . . . well, it’s still pretty awful.
Released on DVD as a double-bill here in the UK on 25/10/10, this set is certainly worth picking up for fans of the movie at an RRP of £9.99 (or less, if you can bargain hunt) but it’s far from essential stuff. The extra features consist of a number of deleted scenes not worth bothering with as they are all now included in the director’s cut which is on the disc, a storyboard to film comparison, a featurette running at about 4 minutes and an animated montage featuring most of the VR moments from the movie. The sequel is also listed as an extra feature so, in that respect, you can at least say you never paid any extra for that. It’s just a shame to still be missing the commentary available on the older American release but this is probably due to the fact that they never received the director’s cut back then. You’ll believe a man can Flymo – 25/10/10.
We are also running a competition to win the DVD. Check it out here.
DIRECTOR: BRETT LEONARD/ FARHAD MANN
CAST: PIERCE BROSNAN, JEFF FAHEY, AUSTIN O’BRIEN, GEOFFREY LEWIS, PATRICK BERGIN, MATT FREWER, KEVIN CONWAY
DURATION: 140 MINS APPROX, 92 MINS APPROX
The Lawnmower Man Rating:
Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace Rating:
DVD Rating: *
* mainly for the inclusion of the sequel which, despite being no good, is an entire extra movie bundled into the package