Release Date: May 26, 1995
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Director: Robert Lungo
Writer: William Gibson
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Takeshi Kitano, Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Based on the novel of the same name by William Gibson, Johnny Mnemonic takes place in the year 2021. Johnny (Reeves) is a courier with a data storage device in his brain allowing him to transfer sensitive information to his destination without worry of it being stolen on the net. The cost of this implant results in Johnny not being able to retain memories of his childhood. He wishes to have his implant remove, but does not have the money for an operation. His boss Ralfi (Udo Kier) gives him one final job to perform in which the amount is more than enough to get the operation. Johnny heads to Beijing to collect the data, however is told that the data amount exceeds his memory capacity which is at 80 gigabytes. The data he is retrieving is 320 gigabytes. An overflow of data would cause not only psychological damage but death if it is not removed within a certain time frame. Using a compression unit that would handle the data in his head, Johnny collects the data from his clients, a group of scientists and selects three random images to use at an encryption key. Before the scientists can send the key to the data receiver, they are ambushed and killed by the Yakuza. Johnny escapes with part of the key and heads back to Newark where he is then pursued by a pharmaceutical executive named Takahashi (Takeshi Kitano) who wants the data for himself. Receiving assistance from a bodyguard named Jane (Diana Meyer) and J-Bone (Ice-T) the leader of an anti-government group called the Loteks, Johnny must get the data removed from his brain and delivered to the correct destination before he is killed either by various contractors that Takahashi hires or by the data that is inside his brain.
Johnny Mnemonic has been called a precursor to Reeve’s blockbuster hit The Matrix, which would come out four years later. It does have some elements of the latter film, but they are still two different films. This film has the look and feel of a futuristic cyberpunk movie. It merges technology with a rugged industrial look. The dystopian world that is presented is nothing new in these types of movies but is essential to the overall plot of the movie.
The performance of Keanu Reeves is what you would expect it to be from him. It’s wooden and doesn’t have much heart or emotion. It lacks any kind of energy. You would think with the situation he is in and his life at risk, he would be concerned about making it through the movie alive. The whole time he complains about trying to get this data out of his head. Thankfully the supporting cast of great character actors help keep the movie from becoming a total bore. You’ve got the lovely Dina Meyer as bodyguard Jane who becomes Johnny’s protector, Udo Kier as Johnny’s boss, Ralphie, Ice-T as resistance leader J-Bone, Henry Rollins as Spider, the man who is willing to remove the chip from Johnny’s head and Japanese acting legend Takeshi Kitano in his first American movie appearance as the CEO of the pharmaceutical corporation who is desperate to get the information out of Johnny’s head that he goes to great extremes.
The best and most surprising performance of the movie goes to Dolph Lundgren as the Street Preacher. Yes, he’s a real preacher who recites biblical verses and refers to himself as the savior or “Jesus”. However, behind his oath is a brutal hunter who stalks Johnny everywhere he goes. He is just like the Terminator as he will not stop until he completes his mission. It was weird at first to see Lundgren in this kind of a role, but he really puts a lot of dedication in his part. He was funny and menacing at the same time.
The special effects were reminiscent of the effects seen in The Lawnmower Man especially during some of the virtual reality scenes. One thing that sets this movie apart from some of the others is the use of creative gadgets such as a laser whip and other weapons that the resistance members have made. There’s plenty of fighting and other action sequences that breathe some life into the dull plot-line. Director Robert Lungo essentially tries to make his own version of Blade Runner! Sadly, this would be Lungo’s only movie he directed as he has never been given another opportunity to make another movie which is a shame. I think it was decent with what he was given, but the script doesn’t give Gibson’s novel much justice.
Johnny Mnemonic is one of the ultimate “Guilty Pleasure” movies that is out there. It’s a love/hate movie. For those who still enjoy it like I do, it’s a 90s Sci-Fi flick that would become a blueprint for this style of film making that was only a few years away. I don’t think if it weren’t for this movie, we may never have gotten a “Matrix” movie nor would it be of the same caliber and innovative film that it became. This movie is better placed into the B-Movie category alongside some other underappreciated movies of this style and concept.
TRIVIA (PER IMDB)
- The script was rumored to have been dumped on the doorstep of Keanu Reeves’ house, a tactic that piqued his interest, and led to him accepting the role of Johnny.
- At one point, Johnny’s brain implant is detected by a security scanner and is falsely reported as a device for counteracting dyslexia. Keanu Reeves does in fact suffer from the disorder in real-life.
- Robert Longo and William Gibson originally intended to make an art film on a small budget, but failed to get financing. Longo commented that the project “started out as an arty $1.5 million movie, and it became a $30 million movie, because we couldn’t get a million and a half.”
- Dina Meyer’s first feature film.
- Val Kilmer was originally set to star, but left the project after he was offered the role of Batman in Batman Forever (1995). Kilmer later played Chris Shilerhis in Heat (1995), a role that Keanu Reeves was in early talks for, but ultimately turned down.
- According to William Gibson, the movie was re-edited by the producers in order to make it more “mainstream”. The Japanese release is said to be closer to the director’s and Gibson’s original vision.
- The only feature film Robert Lungo directed.