According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.
The first two “adult” books I read when I was a kid were Judy Blume’s Wifey and Stephen King’s short-story collection Night Shift. I’m probably not the only child of the 70’s whose life was permanently changed in an icky way by Wifey. My parents should really have been locked up for keeping that book in the living room instead of hiding it away in their bedroom bookshelf with their Anaïs Nin books. Although I guess it wouldn’t have made much of a difference, since I read the Anaïs Nin books, too. Many, many times.
Night Shift didn’t make me feel icky in the same way that Wifey did, but it did introduce me to the thrill of being terrified. I would read my favorite stories over and over again, astounded that one writer could create so many goose-pimple-inducing scenarios. I’m sure much of it would come across as silly today—I haven’t read it since I was a kid—but at the time, Night Shift was as scary as scary could get.Night Shift is like the Paul’s Boutique of short story collections—just like you can spend an entire lifetime tracking down the samples from the Beastie Boys’ masterpiece, filmed versions of the stories from Night Shift sometimes crop up in the most bizarre places. Children of the Corn, Maximum Overdrive, Graveyard Shift, and The Mangler were all turned into feature films. Jerusalem’s Lot was made into the TV miniseries Salem’s Lot, which included a scene featuring a floating vampire kid from which I still haven’t quite recovered. Quitters, Inc. and The Ledge both became fun segments in the film anthology Cat’s Eye. Many of the other stories were adapted into short films, including The Last Rung on the Ladder, The Boogeyman, and The Woman in the Room. According to IMDB, Battleground was turned into a segment of a recent TNT show called Nightmares and Dreamscapes, but I swear I remember seeing it on another horror anthology show as a kid … can anyone confirm this?
Anyway, down at the bottom of this pile of films dwells a little piece of garbage called The Lawnmower Man (yes, it is even beneath Maximum Overdrive). The original short story was a goofy and somewhat disturbing (for a seven-year-old, anyway) tale of a crazed landscaper who mows a guy down with his killer lawnmower.
The film starts out promisingly enough with a monkey in a sweet futuristic helmet. Pierce Brosnan plays Larry Angelo, a brilliant computer programmer who’s training the chimpanzee to manipulate objects in a virtual reality program Larry created that is supposed to make people smarter. There are some sinister guys at Larry’s corporation who want to use the program to turn people into really smart soldiers, or something, but Larry’s pretty much just in it for the lulz. So when the monkey goes crazy and gets a gun and starts shooting people, Larry’s bosses ask him to take it easy for awhile.
Taking it easy for Larry means strapping himself into a virtual reality chair in his basement and making masturbation noises while he pretend flies around Super Mario World. His wife or girlfriend or whatever quickly tires of his shenanigans and dumps his short-pants-wearin’ ass.
The breaking point comes when he decides he would rather play with his souped-up Intellivision than take her to “the city:”
Caroline: You said you were going to take me to the city this weekend. But instead you just hooked up to that machine.
Larry: Why didn’t you remind me?
Caroline: I did.
Larry: This is the future. And you’re afraid of it.
Caroline: Well, it may be the future to you, Larry, but it’s the same old shit to me.
Soon after she’s out of the picture, Larry uses the persuasion techniques he learned at child-molester school to convince his retarded lawn-maintenance guy (or lawnmower man, if you prefer) Jobe (Jeff Fahey) to hook up to his beat-off machine (Larry: You know, Jobe … I have other … different games.). Larry wires Jobe’s neurotransmitters into the mainframe and enhances the virtual CPU up to 10,000 megapixels of data transmitter units, and soon Jobe is the smartest guy in the world. The smartest … and the deadliest. Not only is he super-smart about letters ( Pierce: He absorbed Latin yesterday in two hours. It took me a year just to learn the Latin alphabet.), he can also read people’s thoughts and kill them by turning them into Colecovision characters.
So eventually Jobe decides he’s Jesus, just like his namesake Job from the Bible, only nothing like Job from the Bible whose story was completely different from this. And, like Jesus, he needs to plug himself into the Internet and make everyone’s phones ring so he can enslave them when they answer. Or something, I was a little foggy on the details. Jobe kills a few people, I guess for revenge or whatever, and then he has an epic virtual battle with Larry at Larry’s spooky underground-cave government office while they’re both hooked up to giant gyroscopes. But just in the nick of time, Larry blows up the master computer that Jobe now lives in and escapes, saving the world from Jobe’s crazed telemarketing schemes. Or so we think! At the risk of spoiling the ending, this is what happens at the ending: every phone in the world rings at once. Also, Soylent Green is people.
The most surprising thing about The Lawnmower Man is that it actually seems to have followers. I always thought it was one of those movies that everyone could agree was a waste of time, but it has somehow developed a cult audience over the years. I can’t fathom why. Most cult movies are either overlooked gems or so-bad-they’re-good yuk-fests. The Lawnmower Man is neither. It is a dull, futuristic remake of Charly with dated special effects, an unengaging story, and lackluster acting. The only real reason to see it is if you’re a Lost fan and want to watch Frank Lapidus go full-retard. Yet it is beloved-enough that there is a small army of followers on Netflix complaining that the DVD is not the “director’s cut.” Yeesh. To quote Emily Dickinson, “I think that I shall never see / a poem as sad as a person who gives a shit about The Lawnmower Man director’s cut.”
On the Awkward Scale of Pizzas, I give The Lawnmower Man: One pizza!
(Please note: I recognize that this image shows 2 pizzas, but I haven’t created a 1 pizza graphic yet and I’m not about to spend the next five minutes creating one just for consistency’s sake. Take your two pizzas and get the fuck out of here, Fahey.)
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