Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Directed by Robert Longo

Artistic Value: * ½
Entertainment Value: * *

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In the year 2021, as millions suffer from an incurable disease called NAS, Johnny (Keanu Reeves), a courier with an implant in his brain that allows him store up to 160 gigabytes of memory, takes on an assignment to deliver double that amount of information from Beijing to Newark, even though doing so will kill him in a matter of days if he does not have the data extracted. Unfortunately, there are powerful individuals who want the information Johnny is carrying for themselves, and these persons hire a yakuza boss, Takahashi (Takeshi Kitano), and a crazed cybernetic street preacher (Dolph Lundgren) to decapitate Johnny and bring them his head.

There are a number of interesting ideas in Robert Longo's Johnny Mnemonic, but, as a whole, the film is pretty dreadful.

The movie's premise, I should emphasize, incorporates several themes that have real potential, especially those dealing with the integration of technology into human society. The viewer is, for instance, likely to be intrigued by the notions of carrying vast amounts of information in a specially adapted human brain, of modifying the human body with cybernetic implants, and of the survival of a person's consciousness in an electronic medium. Nothing is done with any of ideas, however, and, as a result, they merely tease and disappoint the viewer rather than add to his enjoyment of the film.

In fact, Johnny Mnemonic's narrative is completely recycled, and I doubt if there is a single viewer who will fail to foresee each of its developments. Inevitably, Johnny meets a girl, Jane (Dina Meyer), who becomes his partner in his adventures after he has hired her to be his bodyguard. Naturally, it does not take long before these two start falling in love with one another, in spite of their never doing much besides running through poorly lit slums and sewers and battling evil assailants. Even the odd quirks the director has tossed in are laughable and unimaginative. He has, for example, included in his story a revolutionary street gang led by J-Bone (Ice-T), the members of which love painting lines on their faces and, apparently, hate technology, even though they work out of a laboratory filled with scientific equipment.

Perhaps the film could have been redeemed by its visual qualities, but it is not. Johnny Mnemonic is completely uninteresting to look at. The director does seem to have been trying to create a grim, distinctive future, but he has completely failed to do so. The make-up is silly. The sets are entirely uninspired, and the special effects are even worse. The whole thing looks like an episode from a tacky science fiction television series made in the 1980s.

I will, at least, admit that some of the film's action sequences are appealing. One of the villains, Shinji (Dennis Akayamai), uses a laser whip to slash off his enemies' fingers or limbs, when he is not decapitating them or slicing their torsos in half. Another, the street preacher, attacks and tortures his victims while spouting lines about their needing to come to Jesus. Both of these two are fun to watch. Sadly, most of the action routines still rely on overused conventions and are, consequently, more often tiresome than they are thrilling.

Lastly, I have to make note of how bad the acting in this movie is. Keanu Reeves, in particular, is astonishing to watch. I honestly cannot remember having seen many performances as atrocious as that he gives here. When he is not painfully wooden he veers off into utterly hammy histrionics. There were more than a few occasions when I felt embarrassed for the man. I suppose that it is actually a small blessing that he is not surrounded by other actors whose skilled work would contrast with and bring out his own ineptitude. There is no one in this movie who will not make the viewer cringe at some point or another.

Johnny Mnemonic is ugly, goofy, and poorly acted. Sadly, it is not even amusing for its badness. The movie is just dull.

Review by Keith Allen

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