Aptly for a film about a strange metamorphosis, this project has undergone several bizarre mutations on its way to the screen, not the least being that it started out as two seperate ideas — an adaptation of one of Stephen King’s lesser-known short stories, and a science fiction exploration of new-fangled Virtual Reality technology — that have coalesced together not quite seamlessly.
It is being heavily touted as Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, but almost nothing of the story has survived the scripting process, although several plot elements from other King novels — specifically Firestarter — have been tipped into the brew, and the combination of mad science, small-town Americana, a paranoid’s vision of corrupt government and the last-reel explosion to tie everything up is more in tune with King than many films closely taken from his works. The other main selling point is Virtual Reality — a computer technology whereby a person can interface directly with a video game-style fantasy world — but this also turns out to be a jazzily opportunist graft onto a storyline that could as easily have been about drugs or brain transplants.
Borrowing most of its story from Charly, The Lawnmower Man has brooding scientist Angelo (Brosnan) experiment on retarded gardener Jobe (Fahey), raising him from drooling geek with frizzy perm to psychic superbrain with blow-dried bob by directly stimulating his brain (or something). While Charly — from Daniel F. Keyes’s classic story “Flowers for Algernon” — found enough emotional story material in the transformation of simpleton into genius, this remembers that it’s supposed to be a Stephen King movie, so in addition we get a sub-plot about an evil government agency that puts an aggression-stimulant factor into the process, hoping to create a high-tech killing machine.
Since most of the first half hour of the film introduces extraneous characters against whom Jobe has a grudge, it’s a fair bet that before you can say Carrie or Christine the augmented Jobe will be killing them off in bizarre, often lawnmower-oriented, ways. Not only do we get the regulation vengeance spree, which sets up a very neat effect whereby people are reduced to writhing bubbles, but Jobe comes over messianic and the finale has Angelo trying to prevent him from taking over the world.
Although patched together from loose ends, this works surprisingly well, with interesting and well-integrated visual effects, some nice humour and a few genuinely visionary touches. The trouble is that it has to boil itself down ridiculously for a finale, in which loner Brosnan sprouts an instant family just so he can have someone to hug after the laboratory has blown up. Nevertheless, well worth a look.