Published on June 24th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
Johnny Mnemonic 
Summary: This cyberpunk flick accurately predicts the importance of the Internet, even if the technology presented is laugh-inducing. Henry Rollins delivers the best performance while Dolph Lundgren is a badass Jesus.
R | 96 min.
Director: Robert Longo | Screenplay: William Gibson (based on his novel)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Dolph Lundgren
Studio: Alliance Communications | Distribution: TriStar Pictures
In 1995, the sci-fi action flick Johnny Mnemonic hit theaters and depicted for audiences a world where the Internet plays prominently into business and crime–but not largely into everyday life. I give them credit for treating the web as an all-encompassing, important tool but will chide them for a lack of foresight into how mainstream the technology would become.
The screenplay was penned by William Gibson, who originally dreamt up the basic concept in 1981 in a short story of the same name. I’m just wondering why it took fourteen years to turn this thing into a film–especially one this mediocre. Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is a courier in the year 2021, which means he transports data in his mind from one source to another, which isn’t technically legal. For what he vows will be his last job, Johnny has implanted a device that doubles his brain’s memory capacity to a deadly level. The information he’s transporting makes him a marked man, with various baddies coming out of the woodwork to hunt him down. It’s not that Johnny Mnemonic lacks in premise, it’s in the style department where the film really suffers.
When Johnny connects to the Internet in the picture, it’s depicted as a physical world which he must use a special headset and a pair of gloves resembling the Nintendo Power Glove to interact with. If Johnny Mnemonic had come out in 1989, people would have bought it hook, line, and sinker but since it dropped 2.5 years after AOL for Windows debuted, some people had already used the Internet and knew it was as simple as pointing and clicking a mouse…but that doesn’t make for exciting movie-making. I feel like Gibson and the studio executives who green-lit this film underestimated how vital the Internet would become within five years of its release–they seemed to think it would be a world limited to tech wizards and professionals.
As we’ve come to expect, Reeves is simply awful in the title role. His delivery literally sounds like its the first time he’s been handed a script and they just shot his cold reading and threw it in the can. On the other hand, performers like Udo Kier as a sleazy information broker and Dina Meyer as Johnny’s love interest Jane are able to make up for their lead’s lack of enthusiasm. Without question the best performances of Johnny Mnemonic come from two unlikely names: Dolph Lundgren and Henry Rollins. In his role as an ass-kicking techno-Jesus, Lundgren does what he does best – break heads and brood. His character, named merely the Street Preacher, looks like he hasn’t showered in months because he’s been too busy beating people to death–he’s been hired by an Asian executive to kill Johnny and eliminate the mysterious data he’s carrying.
Meanwhile, Rollins delivers a legitimately respectable role as a freedom-fighting doctor named Spider (yep, this is the kind of “radical” future where people have names like Spider, Spike, and Stick–all actual names from this film). His character is given some respect and he seems to take the material somewhat seriously, despite delivering some classic one-liners like when Lundgren asks, “Who’s Jones?”, to which Rollins replies, “He’s that guy who fucks your mother.” Classy!
Johnny Mnemonic is another riff on a common theme in the science fiction genre, the danger of technology-dependence. Like The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, or George Orwell’s 1984, this film offers another reminder that we are extremely bound to our electronic devices. In the world of this story, religion has been traded for faith in technology–and people are literally being poisoned by too much mechanization as they come down with a disease called NAS, or “Black Shakes”.
These type of films are often bound by the plausibility of their concept and the execution of their visual effects–Johnny Mnemonic doesn’t completely succeed or fail in either category. Its scenes in “the net” look cheesy as hell in 2013, when grandparents are using the web with ease, but there’s a nostalgic charm that anyone who strained their eyes playing a Virtual Boy back in the day will respond to.
As Ice-T’s character J-Bone shouts, “Get your VCRs ready!” …um, about that.