The Lawnmower Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Dr. Lawrence Angelo works for Virtual Space Industries, running experiments in increasing the intelligence of chimpanzees using drugs and virtual reality. One of the chimps escapes using the warfare tactics he was being trained for. Dr. Angelo is generally a pacifist, who would rather explore the intelligence-enhancing potential of his research without applying it for military purposes.

Jobe Smith, a local greenskeeper with an intellectual disability, lives in the garden shed owned by the local priest, Father Francis McKeen. McKeen’s brother, Terry, is a local landscape gardener and employs Jobe to help him with odd jobs. Father McKeen punishes the challenged Jobe with a belt whenever he fails to complete his chores.

Dr. Angelo realizes he needs a human subject to work with, and he spots Jobe mowing his lawn. Peter Parkette, Dr. Angelo’s young neighbor, is friends with Jobe. Dr. Angelo invites both of them over to play some virtual reality games. Learning more about Jobe, Angelo persuades him to participate in his experiments, letting him know it will make him smarter. Jobe agrees and begins the program. Dr. Angelo makes it a point to redesign all the intelligence-boosting treatments without the “aggression factors” used in the chimpanzee experiments.

Jobe soon becomes smarter, for example, learning Latin in only two hours. Meanwhile Jobe also begins a sexual relationship with a young rich widow, Marnie. However, Jobe begins to display telepathic abilities and have hallucinations. He continues training at the lab, until an accident makes Dr. Angelo shut the program down. The project director, Sebastian Timms, employed by a mysterious agency known as The Shop, keeps tabs on the progress of the experiment, and discreetly swaps Dr. Angelo’s new medications with the old Project 5 supply (reintroducing the “aggression factors” into the treatment).

Jobe develops telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers and takes Marnie to the lab to make love to her while in virtual reality. Something goes wrong in the simulation when Jobe’s virtual avatar becomes violent, attacking her mind directly; Marnie is driven insane, laughing endlessly at nothing.

Jobe’s powers continue to grow, but the treatments are also affecting his mental stability, and he decides to exact revenge on those who abused him when he was “dumb”: Father McKeen is engulfed in flames, a bully named Jake is put into a catatonic state by a mental “lawnmower man” continually mowing his brain, and a lawnmower invention of Jobe’s runs down Harold, Peter’s abusive father. Jobe uses his telepathic abilities to make the investigating police attribute it all to “bizarre accidents” in front of Dr. Angelo.

Jobe believes his final stage of evolution is to become “pure energy” in the VSI computer mainframe, and from there reach into all the systems of the world. He promises his “birth” will be signaled by every telephone on the planet ringing simultaneously. The Shop sends a team to capture Jobe, but they are ineffective against his abilities and he scatters their molecules. Jobe uses the lab equipment to enter the mainframe computer, abandoning his body to become a wholly virtual being, leaving his body behind like a husk.

Dr. Angelo remotely infects the VSI computer, encrypting all of the links to the outside world, trapping Jobe in the mainframe. As Jobe searches for an unencrypted network connection, Dr. Angelo primes bombs to destroy the building. Feeling responsible for what has happened to Jobe, Angelo then joins him in virtual reality to try to reason with him. Jobe overpowers and crucifies him, then continues to search for a network connection. Peter runs into the building; Jobe still cares for him and allows Dr. Angelo to go free in order to rescue Peter. Jobe forces a computer-connected lock to open, allowing Peter and Dr. Angelo to escape. Jobe escapes through a backdoor as the building is destroyed in multiple explosions.

Back at home with Peter, Dr. Angelo and Peter’s mother Carla (who has become a romantic interest) are about to leave when their telephone rings, followed by the noise of a second, and then hundreds of telephone rings, all around the globe

REVIEW:

Have you ever watched a film that you just knew was cutting edge at the time of its release, but in this day and age, they seem prehistoric? The Lawnmower Man is one such film. Going back to when this was released, I recall trying to watch it through the scrambled images through pay-per-view on television. Needless to say, it didn’t really work, but I was intrigued enough to come back and revisit this film years later.

What is this about?

A scientist performs experiments involving intelligence enhancing drugs and virtual reality on a simple-minded gardener. He puts the gardener on an extensive schedule of learning, and quickly he becomes brilliant. But at this point the gardener has a few ideas of his own on how the research should continue, and the scientist begins losing control of his experiments.

What did I like?

Evolution. In the beginning of the film, Jobe, our antagonist, starts out as a simple , developmental challenged guy. After some experimental drugs from Pierce Brosnan’s character, he gets smarts and evolves into a self-proclaimed god. Watching his change over the course of the film is the interesting part, as he slowly changes from a nice guy to the villain, including killing people and taking over virtual reality!

Trapped. I won’t spoil the ending, but the way Jobe is captured is brilliant. When dealing with a malevolent techno-villain, this is pretty much the only way to take care of them, is by doing what was done here. Add in the deception that took place in order for this to transpire and it is a great way to defeat the villain.

Pulling the strings. As you can imagine, whenever there is research funding involved, the military and/or some huge company is pulling the strings and dangling money like a piece of cheese to a lab rat. Normally, I don’t care for this trope, but the film doesn’t focus on them exclusively, until it is time. Even then, there isn’t much light shed on the company, other than they have the money. Fun little tidbit, the big boss who appears on video screens is familiar to fan of the show Breaking Bad as Hank.

What didn’t I like?

Virtual reality. In 2014, this version of virtual reality is extremely dated. I say this version, because there are other virtual reality programs out there still trying to become mainstream. That isn’t the reason I disliked it, though. The effects used inside the computer are very rudimentary compared to some of the other things being done at the time, such as the ballroom scene in Beauty & the Beast.

Powers to the test. It seems to be that whenever Jobe was about to let his powers loose, there was some mysterious force that wanted him to hold back. Why? I don’t know. It is obvious that the guy has developed some strong powers, but I felt that we never got to see the full extent of all of them. It is like in the X-Men movies, we get the basic powers of the mutants, but do we ever get to see them at the full extent? Magneto we do and Jean Grey when she becomes Dark Phoenix, but that’s it. Everyone else is shackled, and that is what I was getting from Jobe here, unfortunately.

Bond, James Bond. Pierce Brosnan is a capable actor. The guy has been James Bond before, for goodness sakes! However, this material doesn’t let him do anything but look bored. A tragic hero, as it would appear, even his remorse didn’t strike me as authentic, but just part of the script, nothing more.

The Lawnmower Man is one of those sci-fi horror films that is relevant for the time it was made, but has become dated. However, the subject matter is still relevant. Can you imagine someone becoming an internet god, running any and everything about the web, just like the government is trying to do with this net neutrality laws they keep trying to force through, but that’s a topic for another day. Do I recommend this? Eh, it is ok. I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it tonight. Maybe upon a second viewing I would have a different opinion. So, I have to say this is one of those you watch at your own risk.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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