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MOVIE REVIEWS : Science Runs Amok in ‘Lawnmower’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There’s something dispiriting about the wide disparity in quality between words and images in current American filmmaking, and the new Stephen King-derived movie, “The Lawnmower Man,” (citywide) may be a prime example. Every scene in this cautionary tale about science running amok has spectacular views, unusual camera angles and moves, or dazzlingly outre computer effects. And every scene, story-wise, gets mushier and more outlandish or perfunctory--until the movie seems disengaged from itself.

“Lawnmower Man” is about people who enter computer images and get trapped in them. It’s also about how computer worlds, and drugs, drive you nuts or turn you into a monster. The central gimmick recalls Daniel Keyes’ famous story, “Flowers for Algernon,” filmed in 1968 as “Charly.” The sweet village dope Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey), a dumb shaggy blond in overlarge overalls, has his IQ fantastically boosted and tragedy results. But “Flowers for Algernon” was a poignant humanist fable. This is another ultra-paranoid shocker, and once again, amazingly, the fate of the entire world, or maybe just the phone system, somehow hangs in the balance.

How can you make a tragedy of intelligence when no one speaks intelligently? This is the kind of movie where a local sexy widow seduces the gardener by offering him lemonade and taking off her clothes; perhaps the moviemakers equate brilliance with an active sex life. Only Pierce Brosnan solves his role, and he does it by turning his part into a series of drunken mumbles or enthusiastic yelps.

A major script gimmick has the characters inhabit something called “Virtual Reality,” a sort of Philip Dick-style computer environment where people, separately or together, slip into mechanical fantasies that look like elaborate video games. But the rest of the “reality” looks computer-generated, too, the so-called suburban American life of “Lawnmower Man.” It’s a plastic never-never land with sweet, dumb gardeners, dashing hard-drinking scientists, cute kids and moms, gas station bullies and fanatical priests. This is Horrortown, U.S.A., and we’ve seen something like it a hundred times, with Stephen King’s help or without.

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The filmmaking team--headed by director-writer Brett Leonard, and producer-writer Gimel Everett, show some visual dash, but after a while, they seem like a crack MTV team trying to hide the fact that the song is drivel and the singer off pitch. “The Lawnmower Man” (MPAA rated R, for language, sensuality and a scene of violence) is another case of characters, or caricatures, getting lost in the FX, a high-tech movie with low-tech people.

‘The Lawnmower Man’

Pierce Brosnan: Jobe Smith

Jeff Fahey: Dr. Lawrence Angelo

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Jenny Wright: Marnie Burke

Geoffrey Lewis: Terry McKeen

An Allied Vision Lane Pringle Productions/Fuji Eight Co. presentation, released by New Line Cinema. Director Brett Leonard. Producer Gimel Everett. Executive producers Edward Simons, Steve Lane, Robert Pringle, Clive Turner. Screenplay by Leonard, Everett. Cinematographer Russell Carpenter. Editor Alan Baumgarten. Costumes Mary Jane Fort. Music Dan Wyman. Production design Alex McDowell. Art director Chris Farmer. With Mark Bringleson, Jeremy Slate. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (language, sensuality, a scene of violence).


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