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Remembering the Bonkers Cyberpunk Ride of The Lawnmower Man 2
The Lawnmower Man 2 isn't necessarily good, but it is certainly fun.
I love weird movie sequels, in part because of the act of discovery that comes from learning about a film that most of the world has conveniently tried to forget. This was particularly true in the age of the video store, when you'd stumble across these things out in the wild, but it's still true now thanks to Wikipedia pages and IMDb entries, as well as knowing friends willing to drop a bomb on you when discussing some cult film or other. However I come to know about them, I always get a special thrill out of learning about films like A Return to Salem's Lot or C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the Chud or, of course, the subject of this piece: 1996's Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace.
Though I doubt most people have actually seen this strange cyberpunk-laced film, a sequel to a movie with its own strange history, clips of its early CGI visual effects have made their way into meme territory in recent years, so I'm betting quite a few people have at least heard about it. It's one of those movies that fits quite neatly into the "Really, they made a sequel to that?" realm, but also one of those films so strange and specific that it's simultaneously a weird movie and a kind of anthropological artifact. That means that, while I can't necessarily call it a must-see, I can recommend it for the reasons I already laid out above. The simple act of discovering the depths of this movie's weirdness is enough to make taking the trip worth it, and for your convenience, it's now streaming on Peacock.
The Road to The Lawnmower Man
To get to the heart of the weirdness of Lawnmower Man 2, though, we first have to go back to the film it's following, 1992's The Lawnmower Man. Like so many films in the 1980s and 1990s, it was ostensibly based on a short story by none other than Stephen King, which longtime King fans will know from his first story collection, Night Shift. In the story, a man encounters the title figures, a strange being who reveals himself to be a kind of Greek mythology-inspired monster while mowing the lawn. Things get gruesome from there, and the story ends on a pretty cut and dried note. But for the film version, co-writers Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett opted to take elements of King's story, keeping the title, and merge them with a pre-existing story about an intellectually disabled man named Jobe (played by Jeff Fahey in the original) who's given superintelligence by a scientist (Pierce Brosnan) doing experiments on him. It's such a profound divergence from King's material that he eventually sued to have his name taken off the film, and won a settlement against New Line Cinema in the process, the first time such a legal maneuver had paid off for a writer in decades.
So we've got a story that goes full sci-fi with only the vaguest nods in the direction of King's original material, which King himself hated, but despite the strangeness of the adaptation, The Lawnmower Man actually paid off for New Line. It delivered a hefty box office return for a film of its size, which meant that sequel development could commence. Now, The Lawnmower Man is a weird, weird movie, but for all its weirdness, it's got nothing on what Beyond Cyberspace has to offer.
The Weirdness of Lawnmower Man 2
See, the original film treats Jobe's journey as a kind of darker Flowers for Algernon, depicting his rise to intellectual power and eventual descent into villainous madness. In Beyond Cyberspace, he's resurrected (played this time by Matt Frewer, who's having fun with it) as a kind of cybernetic megagenius with the ability to insert himself directly into the film's conception of "virtual reality."
The McGuffin at the center of all of this is a microchip that has the potential to control every computer system in the world, which sounds like something out of a Mission: Impossible film, but here basically serves as fuel for Jobe's megalomaniacal resurrection. It also, crucially, serves as fuel for the film to dig deep into its conception of cyberspace through CGI shots that feel both dated and strangely, surreally timeless. There's something horrifying in the images that genuinely makes them work, right up until the film pushes things too far and they swing back into the realm of silly again.
Most of all, though, Lawnmower Man 2 is just plain weird, a stretch of a sequel that just goes wherever it pleases, delivering a truly bonkers movie in the process. It's not a traditionally good movie, necessarily, but it is a fascinating exercise in weird sequelization, and for me, that's always enough to make something worth watching.
Check it out for yourself! Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace is now streaming on Peacock.