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Film review: Lawnmower Man, The

When the title comes on the screen, it's "Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man." But that's only partially correct. King did not write the script, and though the title (and at least one scene) come from a short story in his "Night Shift" collection, this movie really has little to do with that story.

Credit here should go instead to a number of other movies — primarily "Brainstorm," "Total Recall," "TRON" and "Charly" (based on the popular short story "Flowers for Algernon").

The plot focuses on a mad scientist and his subject, the scientist being Pierce Brosnan, sporting an earring and a Don Johnson-style three-day beard. His subject is a slightly retarded gardener, played by Jeff Fahey. The gardener's nickname, "The Lawnmower Man," comes from a sexy, rich young widow (Jenny Wright), who is one of his clients.

Brosnan is experimenting with something called Virtual Reality, which is really just a high-tech, in-your-brain video game: Wear the headset and you are inside the game, rather than just watching.

His laboratory work is funded by The Shop, which, as any Stephen King fan knows, is slang for the CIA. They want a human weapon, but Brosnan, of course, is more interested in exploring the furthest reaches of the human mind for humanitarian purposes.

When Brosnan's intellectual chimp goes berserk, he quits for a time. To occupy himself, he experiments in a makeshift lab in his basement and gets the idea of using Fahey, luring him with dreams of becoming more intelligent. Not to mention becoming telepathic and developing telekinesis.

Besides, Fahey is tired of being a victim — the priest who lets him live in a shack behind the church whips him with a belt, the local gas-station attendant picks on him and Brosnan's neighbor, who abuses his wife and young son, calls him names. As every Stephen King fan knows, Fahey will eventually get revenge on these guys.

Most of the way, this is pretty routine, predictable stuff. But the computer-animated special effects provide an undeniable "Wow!" factor. Especially in the film's final moments, as a computerized Fahey has a showdown with Brosnan.

Mercifully, most of the violence is off-camera, so there's little gore. But nude sex scenes and profanity earn an R rating, making "The Lawnmower Man" inappropriate for children — who, one would think, would most enjoy the video-game-style special effects.