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Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

by on 2013/01/19

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

“What’s going on, Ralfi? This feels like a blown deal, man.”

* * *

Welcome to 2021 and the 500-channel universe of Johnny Mnemonic. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure Gru has at least that many on her TV, and that’s just for Muzak. And it’s only 2013 yet.

Well, get your VCRs ready because – to borrow from one of the movie’s stars, Ice-T – here’s the future, coming at you low-tech style.

Johnny Smith (Keanu Reeves of A Scanner Darkly) is getting the hell out of Dodge . . . well, Central Beijing actually. He’s hired to take 320 gigabytes upside his 80 gig brain.As a result of his overconfidence, he suffers neural seepage, which means his makeup becomes gradually more Gothic as he travels back to Newark and beyond.

This courier of tomorrow is joined by a bewilderingly eclectic cast: Udo Kier (Blade) as his debauched dispatcher, Dina Meyer (Starship Troopers) as an aspiring bodyguard, Henry Rollins as a “flesh mechanic”, Dolph Lundgren (Universal Soldier) as a religious assassin (in another title-billed near-cameo), and the aforementioned Ice-T as the leader of this movie’s Ewoks.

Was Minority Report too sleek? Strange Days too effective? Did Total Recall need dolphins instead of mutants? What more do you need to know? It seems, but is not really, a lot like Keanu’s own Matrix. If you’ve ever griped about its sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, take 97 minutes to try watching this video first.

If it’s not entirely awful, it’s not entirely successful either. It squeaks by, compromising social and political commentary with ham-fisted B-movie trappings. I was struck how its vision of an informational future was often dependant on things: physical objects, weapons, elaborate gear, disguises, and cash. It often felt more like a new industrial age.

That said, I will admit it had some very neat gizmos indeed: a multi-layered gun reminded me of stacking dolls, wired gloves to manipulate a virtual environment, and a whip-like garrote which gives new meaning to the phrase “hotwire”.

What is not as cool is some of the acting, neither good enough for praise, nor even to escape notice, alternately forced and wooden, distracting without entertaining. Rollins as Spider seems uninvolved, lost and only vaguely outraged. His performance isn’t up to his role’s level of importance. Worse still is the hero, Keanu himself, who swings wildly between extremes. I’ve always felt the need to defend my appreciation of him, yet here he does nothing to help support the cause.

In fact, at most levels I found that Johnny Mnemonic was trying too damn hard. Its opening crawl was as cumbersome as it was unnecessary, the very epitome of tell-don’t-show. The camera work is hyperkinetic to the point of being masturbatory, not hand-held, but panning, swooping, trucking, and zooming. And throughout it all, the musical score is less a gesture than a punch, with over-the-top electronica, near-industrial rock, and techno. Hell, I guess it was made in the Nineties, and that’s just what they had going around.

All in all, it’s a grab-bag, for better and for worse. Interesting ideas, unevenly executed. Like its own title character, the movie takes on too much. It desperately tries to keep cool, ultimately devolving to a quaking mess, brainpower fading, and bleeding out the nose.

* * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

97 minutes

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