Lawnmower Man

1992, R, 107 min. Directed by Brett Leonard. Starring Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Mark Bringleson, Geoffrey Lewis, Austin O'Brien.

REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., March 13, 1992

The filmmakers tackling Virtual Reality as a subject wisely chose to put all their eggs in the special effects basket. Lawnmower Man takes an excruciatingly long time to get going with its story set in a vague future where Virtual Reality looks a lot better than it does now. The lovely Pierce Brosnin plays a scientist working with mind expansion and virtual reality at a super-secret science facility funded by “the Shop.” Evil militarists being what they are, Brosnin's experiments with chimpanzees go badly because they insist he heighten their aggressive tendencies as well as their intelligence with computer programs, cyber suits and goggles that allow them to feel as if they're actually in a computer generated landscape. Quitting in disgust when his last chimpanzee comes to a bad end, Brosnin continues his experiments at home with the simple-minded gardener everyone calls the Lawnmower Man (Fahey). It seems to take forever to get to the good part, which is finally brought on by the Shop who once again turn Brosnin's experiments toward aggression. The Lawnmower Man obliges them with all the aggression they can handle. As a result we get to spend much more time in cyberspace. The Lawnmower Man tries to hit all the points of dogma about Virtual Reality, but it's getting to be such a large text that each point only gets a mention. The origins of Virtual Reality in military projects is touched on, also the possibilities of human sexual interaction on a plane other than the purely physical, even “cyber-sex,” gets a mention. Also interesting, though only briefly touched upon, is the “net,” the vast network of humanity possible through electronic connection, be it cyberspace or telephone lines. There are those who posit that the next evolution of humanity will take this course. But it's the dangers of mind control, of course, that get the main play. Brosnin's driven intensity gets annoying and Fahey's shift from sweet simpleton to psychic maniac is abrupt, but the special effects star here anyway. In fact, they're so much fun that they take the edge off the kneejerk technophobia. Perhaps Lawnmower Man assumes too much knowledge on the part of the audience about Virtual Reality. These days Virtual Reality exists as primitive but steadily improving flat shaded scapes that the user can move through wearing goggles that provide a 3-D view and a glove that allows hand movement. According to the press information, there's an arcade game on the way for anyone who needs to do more research. Lawnmower Man will probably be a cult hit. It's been all the buzz on the “net” (electronic bulletin boards like CompuServe, Genie, or Prodigy) for some months now, but if as much care had been taken with the human elements -- the actors, the story -- it would have been a much better ride. After all, movies always happen in Virtual Reality.

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Lawnmower Man, Brett Leonard, Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Mark Bringleson, Geoffrey Lewis, Austin O'Brien

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