Serviceable sci-fi actioner will cash in on interest in both virtual reality and 1992’s surprise hit “The Lawnmower Man.” Now fully freed from even a nodding acquaintance with the Stephen King short story (King successfully sued to have his name removed from the original film), “Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace” can focus on special effects instead of Gothic storyline.
Matt Frewer replaces Jeff Fahey as Jobe, who was transformed into a genius living in a computerized virtual reality in the last film, which is briefly recapped here. Now evil corporate interests (personified by Kevin Conway and Camille Cooper as the maniacal plutocrat and his icy assistant) have brought Jobe back to design a new computer system. The purpose of the new design is to create a global network linking all computers that will be impossible to escape. Unknown to his corporate masters, Jobe plans to be in charge.
Representing the forces of good are a group of kids led by Peter (Austin O’Brien, repeating his role from the first movie) and Dr. Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin), the ex-scientist who designed the ultimate computer chip only to see his investors steal it away.
Managing to transcend the formulaic plot are Frewer and Bergin, whose performances make the film work. Frewer, reunited with his “Max Headroom” director, Farhad Mann, veers from the real — and still somewhat dull-witted — Jobe to the megalomaniacal virtual Jobe without missing a beat.
Bergin, better known for his oily villains (“Sleeping With the Enemy”), brings panache to the hero’s role without condescending to the material, making his character’s quest convincing.
In the supporting cast, Conway is an enjoyably gruff, if not terribly developed, villain, and Ely Pouget should turn some heads in the equally underwritten role of the scientist who suddenly realizes the full implications of her work.
No one is going to see “Lawnmower Man 2” for the acting, however; the film rises or falls on its special effects, credited to Cinesite. While pic doesn’t appear to break new ground in its cyberspace elements, it is handsome throughout , the integration of live actors with the virtual sets seamless. The CD-ROM version was reportedly shot at the same time as the movie so that the two versions will closely resemble each other.
Decision to change from the R rating of the original to the current PG-13 is probably a wise one, as pic will undoubtedly play best with the teen and kids crowd.