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Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Dina Meyer, Takeshi, Barbara Sukowa, Ice-T, Henry Rollins

Written By: William Gibson Directed By: Robert Longo

The Short Version

The guy who coined the term “cyberpunk” puts a story on the big screen.

For all of the flashy dressing, it’s actually a pretty simple story.

If cyberpunk isn’t your scene, you won’t get it.

Either way, beer helps.

If you’re a geek, Johnny Mnemonic is whacked-out fun.  If you’re not, it’s dull and weird.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

DOUBLE CHEESE PIZZA.

“Double cheese pizza with anchovies?” 

Hell no, man!  Give the fish to the dolphin and leave my pizza alone!


Pairs Well With...

ASAHI SUPER DRY BEER.

Japanese beer that the average American just doesn’t get.  William Gibson cyberpunk in a nutshell, folks.

“Hit me!”


Are you into cyberpunk literature?  More specifically, have you read old school William Gibson? 

If your answer to these questions is “no,” go away and get a book or two first.  (If it makes you feel more l33tsauce, feel free to make them eBooks.)  I suggest going with some short stories, along with “Neuromancer.”  Seriously.  Even if you like the genre, Gibson’s style is so “out there” (the general population might consider it “speed freak incoherent,” even though it actually does make sense) that if you’re not grounded in some way about how his cyberpunk world works before you go into a visual rendition of it – even a dumbed-down version like the one he’s created in his screenplay for Johnny Mnemonic – then watching a movie set in said world will just make you feel angry and insane.

Of course, once you have read Gibson’s printed stuff, you’ll be qualified to realize that Johnny Mnemonic actually is a dumbed-down version made (in vain) to appeal to a broader audience, but hey, at least all of the window dressing will make sense! 

Speaking of window dressing, here’s how the title cards introduce the movie for us (and yes, these are the movie’s own sentence fragments and punctuation choices)…

“Second decade of the 21st Century.  Corporations rule.  The world is threatened by a new plague: NAS.  Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, fatal, epidemic, its cause and cure unknown. 

“The corporations are opposed by the LoTeks, a resistance movement risen from the streets: hackers, data-pirates, guerilla-fighters in the Info-Wars.

“The corporations defend themselves.  They hire the Yakuza, the most powerful of all crime syndicates.  They sheath their data in Black Ice, waiting to burn the brains of intruders.

“But the LoTeks wait in their strongholds, in the old city cores, like rats in the walls of the world.

“The most valuable information must sometimes be entrusted to mnemonic couriers, elite agents who smuggle data in wet-wired brain implants.”

As it turns out, Johnny (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix) is just such a mnemonic courier, and if he’d ever like to make enough cash to retire from this business and get his own memories back (because of course to make room to store data for clients, he had to sacrifice his own memory), he needs to take a job that technically exceeds his storage capacity.  Sure, he can cram it all in there, but if he doesn’t get it out in two or three days tops, his brain will overload and he’ll wind up dead.  And hey, the Yakuza would be more than happy to help speed that process along for him before he has a chance to make delivery to his mysterious client…

Oh, goody!  Made up words and Japanese mobsters!  Now look closer.  The stuff in the italics sounds funky enough, and the delivery method’s a bit odd, but when you get right down to it, Johnny Mnemonic actually has one of the oldest movie plots around: “The Important Package.”  The courier must get the important package from place to place without being killed.  You’ve seen it a million times… just not set in a world where people jack directly into the internet with their brains while manipulating virtual images with special gloves, or where the elite still inhabit awesomely expensive hotels while anything that is not a corporate office or an awesomely expensive hotel is a modified 1980s cocaine bar in the middle of the shittiest neighborhood on Earth.  Thus, the window dressing.

So, do you like the made up words, the Japanese mobsters, the VR gloves, and the modified 1980s cocaine bar chic?  Because if you decide that you don’t, then Johnny Mnemonic is going to be a huge disappointment for you.  Understanding that he had lots of outside pressure telling him what he needed to do with the film doesn’t change the fact that one-and-done director Robert Longo (this is his only feature) has put together a decidedly mediocre flick at best.  The story is left to meander through a paceless electronic soup, and the movie seems so intent on point out the shiny (and grimy) things that it often glances right past what normal people would consider extremely important plot points.  (Example: just about everyone who comments on this flick asks why Johnny is needed at all in such a technologically advanced world, and why the data can’t just be sent across the ‘net electronically.  Personally, I understand that the reason for this is the simple fact that the ‘net is not a safe and secure place, but even one sentence put into the movie to that effect would do wonders for the audience at large.)  The actors seem more focused on their characters’ quirks than anything else, including, again, moving the story forward.  And when that story ends… while frankly it’s more conclusive than what one usually gets out of William Gibson’s writing (he tells a great story but can’t seem to write a real ending to save his life), it doesn’t carry the sort of triumphant resonance that’s supposed to go along with saving half the world’s population from certain doom.  So, traditionally speaking, Johnny Mnemonic really isn’t all that great.

Ah, but if you do like the made up words, the Japanese mobsters, the VR gloves, and the modified 1980s cocaine bar chic… then you, my friend, are the savvy target audience that Johnny Mnemonic was looking for, and you are in for a technostalgic good time.  (Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s my own made up word for the day.)  Bonus points if you’ve got beer on hand, and even more bonus points if you were world-aware back when most people still didn’t have a home computer and most of those who did and were online had AOL accounts accessed through fourteen-four modems.

For the film’s intended cyberpunk audience, one reason that Johnny Mnemonic stands as a winner is not because of the brilliance of its vision, but rather for how dated it was even at the time of its release.  CRT monitors, the VR fad, the use of fax machines – fax machines! – to send pictures, and so on; all of this is absolutely hilarious when set side-by-side with a world that allows for direct brain hookup to the internet in a manner that allows for full control of the… dude, is that just 4 meg video card in that machine?  These graphics are so mid-90s…

But again, if you’re the sort of person who can catch these things, it ends up being funny.  And if that’s where your sense of humor lies, then you can also appreciate how the ultimate insult most people end up hurling at Keanu Reeves – the one about him having no real personality – gets turned around here to make him the perfect choice to play Johnny.  Why?  Because Johnny cannot remember who the hell he is, much less what his real personality might be like.  He just spends the entire movie being annoyed.  It’s brilliant.  And I honestly mean that.  I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job in this role.  And when Johnny reaches his breaking point, Reeves gets to stand on top of a garbage heap and scream out what has to be one of the most hilarious rants I’ve ever heard:


“Listen.  You listen to me.  You see that city over there?  That’s where I'm supposed to be!  Not down here with the dogs, and the garbage, and the fucking last month's newspapers blowing back and forth! I've had it with them; I've had it with you; I've had it with all this!  I.  Want.  ROOM SERVICE!  I want the club sandwich; I want the cold Mexican beer; I want a $10,000-a-night hooker!  I want my shirts laundered... like they do... at the Imperial Hotel... in Tokyo!


If you still don’t think Keanu can act after watching him deliver that, I feel sorry for you.  That’s just awesome.  I laugh like hell every time I see it.

And he’s just part of the fun, because the cast of Johnny Mnemonic comes at you from every corner of the map.  (Literally so, as it were.  That’s because the filmmakers needed to appeal to all kinds of markets to get people to pay at either the front end or the back end to get the movie made.  Thus the Canadian lead, the Scandinavian guy, the German lady, and the Japanese gent whose role causes most Westerners to scratch their heads but whose part is actually extended in the Japanese release so that viewers would be more inclined to cough up some yen.  Yay, finance and marketing!)  While he doesn’t rate the second billing he gets on most releases of the film, Dolph Lundgren (Universal Soldier: Regeneration) definitely stands out in what has to be the weirdest role of his entire career: the Street Preacher.  Along with keeping a videophone in his Bible, the cybernetically enhanced Street Preacher works as an assassin (“Do you want me to bring him to Jesus, or to you?”) so that he can earn enough cash to keep amping himself up.  Dolph obviously has fun with it, and really, you should, too.  It’s so bizarre, it’s hysterical.

Also standing out is Dina Meyer (Piranha) in her feature debut, who puts on William Gibson’s cyberpunk world like a glove as she plays what should have been the second-billed role as Johnny’s bodyguard.  She’s just as funny as her pink grenade, and twice as intense.  She also happens to be the most human player in the entire movie, bringing real emotion to a character that does her best to act like a badass killer whenever she thinks others are watching.  Lots of cyberpunk types fell for Dina Meyer at first sight; looking back, it’s not hard to see why.

As for Ice-T (Leprechaun in the Hood)… just laugh.  Indeed, that’s good advice for most of the rest of this movie, too.

Bottom line, the real key to enjoying Johnny Mnemonic is to refuse to take it seriously.  Just jack in, beer up, and enjoy the ride.  If you’re into cyberpunk as it was back before the dot-com bubble hit, there’s plenty of whacked-out craziness here to party with.  If you’re not into cyberpunk as it was, though… you probably want to just skip the movie and go straight for the beer, because Johnny Mnemonic will just give you a headache.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2012


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