Thought I'd preview my review from next week's column:
For reasons I still don’t understand, THE LAWNMOWER MAN (108/141 mins., 1992, R) opened in Rhode Island during February 1992, several weeks ahead of the rest of the nation. Even the Boston Globe’s review, from a critic who was sent south to cover the film, mentioned this oddball fact, enabling those of us in the Ocean State to brag about seeing the Pierce Brosnan/Jeff Fahey virtual reality thriller before everyone else. If only social media was prevalent back in the early ‘90s, we could’ve also warned the movie-going public to avoid this goofy turkey, which nevertheless managed to gross a potent $30 million on a budget that threw nearly all of its funding behind then-cutting edge CGI animation.
Fahey stars as the title character, Jobe, a man-child who lives in a churchyard and is routinely beaten by his caretaker priest. He’s also a comic book fan and budding genius in the making, thanks to scientist Dr. Angelo’s (Brosnan) virtual reality technology, which was being used for nefarious means by government spooks. Unfortunately for our future James Bond (billed under Fahey – telling you how lean these post-“Remington Steele” years were for the actor), his mind experiments were scuttled after one of his primate subjects went rogue and escaped. Now conducting his research on devices destined for Dave & Busters in his basement, Angelo opts to turn his attention to a human guinea pig, using his friendly neighborhood “Lawnmower Man” as the basis for his work.
If you want to know how anemic this independent production is, consider that Stephen King – whose name adorned many an awful genre exercise in the ‘80s and ‘90s – sued the movie’s distributor, New Line, for using his name to sell the film. Though connected to a King story, the movie bears scant resemblance to his writing, and the author actually won the case, prompting New Line to remove any mention of his brand from the film’s advertising.
However, by that point, “The Lawnmower Man” had already made its money, making it one of the more curious box-office sleeper hits of the early ‘90s. It is, however, a limp piece of science fiction, sporting a blonde Fahey in an (to put it charitably) overly broad performance as Jobe – never once do you feel as if you’re watching a mentally challenged man gain the power of intelligence, as Jobe’s transition basically involves him wanting to dress up like a cowboy and making out with neighbor Jenny Wright (third billed in a role that’s thinly drawn at best). Unsurprisingly, while Dr. Angelo’s work is wildly successful at first, it eventually takes its toll on Jobe, who becomes a crazed God in a virtual world that looks barely more defined than a typical Nintendo 64 game.
Those computer sequences, dated as they are (and they were never that exciting in the first place), must have been where most of the “Lawnmower Man”’s reported $10 million budget went, as the rest of the threadbare production plays out on just a few sets, many of them dismal looking, thinly decorated corridors. To his credit, Brosnan doesn’t phone in his performance, at times nearly matching Fahey’s level of enthusiasm, though he has little to do but record his monologues on where his experiments are going. What’s worse, though, is that director Brett Leonard and producer Gimel Everett’s script is so dismal and unappealing, serving up an interesting premise that goes the way of a rote revenge thriller in its second act.
Still a financial success that clicked with viewers likely because of its special effects, “The Lawnmower Man” has been freed from the restraints of New Line Cinema distribution. Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray, out June 20th, offers the movie’s debut in the HD realm, in a sensational two-disc set that fans of the movie should enjoy – just be warned that time has not been kind to Jobe’s trip into the VR world, which itself has failed to materialize into a viable consumer market, even 25 years after the picture’s release.
Shout’s presentation includes both the movie’s 108-minute theatrical cut and 140-minute Director’s Cut which was previously only seen, intact, in a deluxe laserdisc release in the mid ‘90s. That longer edit does flesh out the respective characters but also drags on interminably at times, especially in an opening act that grows repetitious quickly (there are only so many scenes of Brosnan talking into his tape recorder one can endure). Shout assembled this edit from different sources that sometimes vary in sharpness (and offer some brief jumpcuts, albeit less prevalent here than they were on laserdisc), but the underlying transfer on both versions (1.85 AVC encode) is truly superb – in line with Shout’s recent excellence of remastered 1080p transfers, marked by fine grain and detail. 5.1/2.0 DTS MA stereo offerings are each nicely mixed with discrete separation on both, though Dan Wyman’s droning synth score is not a plus.
The set’s main new supplemental feature is a 50-minute documentary on the film sporting interviews with Brett Leonard, who’s still working in VR, plus Jeff Fahey and other crew members. This is a wide-ranging and interesting conversation that hits upon the movie’s independent production, how New Line wanted to shorten the movie once they purchased it for distribution, Fahey’s casting (Paramount was high on him thanks to “Body Parts” and was originally going to distribute the film), and the work of Leonard’s late wife, Gimel Everett, who co-wrote and produced the picture.
You will notice, as a result of the lawsuit, that Stephen King’s name appears nowhere on the disc – the documentary refers to “the short story” but never its author, and even the original trailer has been edited to remove any mention of King, which is ironic considering the film was initially sold as “Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man”! Other, vintage extras include Leonard and Everett’s laserdisc commentary (on both cuts) and numerous standard-def extras (the deleted scenes used in the Director’s Cut, virtual reality sequences, vintage interviews) culled from prior releases. There’s also a delightful easter egg that fans will find particularly hilarious!
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