This past weekend I made it out to see Keanu Reeves’ latest John Wick. The hard-hitting actioner got me pumped for more Keanu, and since I’ve previously reviewed Speed, I went digging for the next thrill-a-minute film from his past. I didn’t have to look far before uncovering 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic.
In 2021, a plague called NAS runs rampant. Corporations rule using the Yakuza as their enforcers and the resitance, LoTeks, battle them in the Info-Wars. To protect the most sensitive data, mnemonic couriers are hired to smuggle data outside the Net. One courier, Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is looking to get out of the courier business. That’s why he agrees to one last job to score enough cash to remove his brain storage implant and recover his erased childhood memories. However, the data packet Johnny downloads is twice his storage capacity, endangering his life. He’s also in danger from the Yakuza who have been enlisted by Pharmakom to recover the stolen information. Johnny’s on the run with a ticking time bomb in his head, the mafia at his heels, and only Jane (Dina Meyer), a NAS-infected bodyguard, is keeping his head attached.
I didn’t see Johnny Mnemonic in theaters, but I did see it in the 90’s. Although it suffers from the over-stylized perception of the internet that plagues other tech-tinged films like The Net, Hackers, and The Lawnmower Man, I enjoyed it then. Nearly twenty years later and the movie hasn’t changed a bit, but my opinion certainly has.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, here’s a quirky fact about Johnny Mnemonic. Director Robert Longo and writer William Gibson intended it to be an arthouse film with a small $1.5 million budget, but because the internet and cyberpunk were so en vogue, Sony Pictures instead granted them a budget of $26 million. The result is one expensive-ass mess of a movie.
After a thoroughly complicated text scroll explaining the current state of fuck the world’s in, audiences are introduced to Johnny. One can’t exactly call Johnny the hero considering he doesn’t know the role he plays and even if he did know, he’s the kind of ass that may not care. Aside from a scant handful of scenes, Keanu turns in one of his most wooden performances. It’s a performance that earned him a Razzie nomination. Henry Rollins, who plays street doctor Spider, is a little rough around the edges too. Of them all, it’s Dina Meyer in her debut film role that’s giving it her all.
Acting aside, the story generally is intriguing. A thoughtful envisioning of a dystopian future with the world’s dependence on the internet at its core was exciting in the 90s and could be retooled to great effect for today. Then it was told disjointedly, due to the US release being re-edited from the director’s original cut. Regardless of the reason, the result is a movie with a whole helluva lot going on, but little to show for it aside from some cheesy hack your brain effects and a hard-to-follow junkyard battle royale.
I was excited to revisit the world of Johnny Mnemonic. Dejected, I’m now excited at the thought of a remake. The potential is there, but perhaps twenty years of hindsight can help to make it the movie it should have been.