Brett Leonard, good sir, just in case you find yourself searching the internet and burning with curiosity, I would like you to know; I enjoyed The Lawnmower Man. Not because it is good-though surely you know that. Make no mistake; it is a bad movie. But it is phenomenally bad. Gloriously bad! In a way that is seldom replicated in modern film. It exists within that glorious pantheon of “science fiction” films where the air quotes are transmitted so loudly you can hear them in spoken conversations, and where the future is predicted so wonderfully incorrectly. Stephen King may not have liked your movie, Mr. Leonard, but I certainly did.
Ok, so let’s start at the top. What’s it about? One can safely parse that both a man and a lawnmower are involved, though I recommend that any landscaping enthusiasts strongly temper their expectations. Jobe (beginning the movie with a sort of fetishized stupidity. More on that later) is a groundskeeper who lives in a shed and works for the local abusive dick priest and is friends with town urchin, Peter. An abusive priest AND a relationship between a child and an adult male, who also happens to be mentally challenged. There is no part of that sentence that would be accepted in a modern movie, unless it was a prestige pic, directed by Martin Scorcese, designed to bait all the Oscars. Luckily, The Lawnmower Man swerves immediately, and no one’s favorite Bond, Pierce Brosnan, shows up to shoot Jobe full of a drug designed to enhance intelligence. This, only after a scene where Dr. Angelo (aka Bond, aka Brosnan) invites Jobe and Peter over to his house to play some games. That is a thing that actually happens in this movie, and without any minor key warnings transmitted through the score, because in 1992, a movie could have a scene of an adult male inviting a child and his impaired friend over to his house to play video games, and it wasn’t the opening salvo of a horrific cautionary tale. Inevitably, the drugs release Jobe’s latent telepathic, telekinetic and pyrotechnic abilities, and havoc is wreaked.
The barest possible bones of The Lawnmower Man are taken from a Stephen King short story of the same name. It is something like seven pages long, so it is not terribly surprising that the end result of the film bears little resemblance to the story. However, the DNA of King is writ large; The Lawnmower Man feels remarkably like a cross between Carrie, Firestarter, with just a hint of The Green Mile thrown in (I am aware that The Lawnmower Man predates The Green Mile. It would be a delicious irony if King had ended up borrowing from the film of The Lawnmower Man, though I doubt it is the case).
Once Jobe’s powers are released, his vengeance is very Carrie White at the prom, with the strange, tacit suggestion that the increase in Jobe’s intelligence is proportionate to him becoming more dangerous and corruptible. Pre-smart sauce Jobe has a sort of Forrest Gump-ian innocence, that feels bound to his disability. It is not uncommon to see that sort of romanticizing of a complex and difficult diagnosis, but it is always vaguely uncomfortable and a little bit icky, so I was pleased that it was an aspect that was moved past relatively swiftly, and we could move onto the pulpier aspects. In particular a very weird sequence of virtual reality sex between Jobe and a lusty widow named Marnie indulges in all of the movie’s strangest impulses. Bizarre visuals (now is a good time to mention that I absolutely loved the look of the virtual reality world; it was boxy and absurd. Creepy and flat, and oddly reminiscent of the “Money for Nothing” video by Dire Straights), uncomfortable relationships, inexplicable violence…all on display.
The Lawnmower Man has no dearth of ambition and ideas. Tabling my general affection for improbable and often relatively bad movies, the film genuinely deserves credit and respect for its vast wealth of ideas. That some of them aren’t very good ideas does not negate the effort and the results are always infinitely watchable. In fact, it is almost impossible to look away. The Lawnmower Man is a giant flaming dumpster on ice. You just need to see what’s going to happen.
The Lawnmower Man is not streaming anywhere, so it will require a bit of effort to actually see it. That said, if you are willing to expend that energy you will be rewarded. Strange and dated and weird and wonderful, The Lawnmower Man is not good, but it is a lot of fun.