a critiQal film review Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: In 2021, Johnny (Reeves), a mnemonic courier with an implanted memory chip in his brain to store date being transported, accepts an assignment to deliver stolen corporation information from Beijing to Newark. With the corporation hot on his trail, Johnny must find a way to download the information from his head - or his brain will overload and kill him before the corporation has a chance to.

708 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 32s)

I had heard so many awful things about Johnny Mnemonic back when it first came out, I didn’t even bother giving it a second glance. Now that I’m a bit older and have learned not to listen to what other people say quite as much (see Spider-Man (2002), for example). So I decided to finally give this supposedly “awful” movie it’s shot.

Would Keanu Reeves, Ice-T and the rest be able to provide a cyberpunk flick worth actually seeing (and thus earning it’s current cult status)? Or would Johnny Mnemonic prove the mob is actually right on occasion?

Before he discovered Neo, Keanu Reeves met Bill and did Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)), took a bus ride in Speed (1994) – and ran for his life in Johnny Mnemonic. Unfortunately, while those previous films didn’t have Reeves acting as one of their low points, the same can’t be said for Johnny Mnemonic. His acting is at an all-time low, and comes off incredibly stilted.

Yes, he is playing a man who has had his childhood memories removed, so chances are he’s supposed to come off a little stiffer and a little more uncaring. Then there are his silly rants for things like a “hooker” and “room service” that sound equally stiff. Add in some throwaway, ill-timed one-liners, there comes a point when the viewer doesn’t buy the excuses anymore. By that point, they just shake their head at Reeves’ amazingly inept delivery.

Some of the other characters are a bit more entertaining. There’s the stressed-out neo-junkie approach taken by Dina Meyer. Then there’s the laid back gentle gangster role played by Ice-T. And even a calmer Dr. Henry Rollins who can still rant with the best of them. With those, there are a few performances in the film that won’t make the viewer cringe in dismay.

But the real stand-out of the film, surprisingly, is a nearly unrecognizable Dolph Lundgren as a mad bionic preacher. He nails people’s hands to any available solid surface – in an attempt to keep re-creating the crucifixion – with anything that’s close by. While that seems to be thrown in merely to cause a stir (as crucifixions on-screen most usually do), Lundgren manages to perfectly capture the lunatic’s religious fervor. Too bad he’s got a serious shortage of screen time.

Much has been said about this being William Gibson’s (the “godfather” of cyberpunk) only foray into feature films. Sad to say, the plot is a bit of a disappointment. Set in a dystopian future where something has obviously gone wrong, the film adds a few twists, like the ability to implant data directly into the brain. Unlike it’s future predecessor The Matrix (1999), this data isn’t read by the user, it’s merely stored. There is obviously a big push towards the cyborg vision of merging man and machine, mostly with disastrous results. Unfortunately, these add-ons, while interesting ideas, have been showcased in better films before and since many many times.

The special effects aren’t half-bad, but there is some definite early green-screening that seems patently obvious these days. The internet sequences, where Neo, er, Johnny, uses virtual reality to stroll around in cyberspace, are well filmed. They offer a fresh take on surfing the internet. Sadly, the characters now resemble something out of a Dire Straits video and can’t compete with the CGI imagery available today. Still, for ’95, this was something new, and viewers can still appreciate the effort.

When people complain about Keanu’s wooden acting, they should point to Johnny Mnemonic as a prime example. While I usually don’t mind Keanu, and have enjoyed him in more than just The Matrix (1999), his acting here makes me want to groan aloud. Toss in a vision that’s been better fleshed out to varying degrees in Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) and even TRON (1982). Despite a surprising performance by Dolph Lundgren, Johnny Mnemonic really doesn’t leave the viewer with much of a reason to watch. And that’s even before they introduce a thinly-veiled reference to RoboCop (1987), mis-timed AND out of place one-liners…or a computer-enhanced dolphin hacker.

Skip this cyber-trash. If you’re looking for something from Gibson, check out his “The X-Files” (TV) episode instead. Leave Johnny Mnemonic to collect dust on someone else’s shelf.

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