The Smuggling Human iPod: 'Johnny Mnemonic' Review

Updated on May 19, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

I have always said that of all the possible parallel dimensions, ours is the only one in which Katy Perry is not a one-hit wonder sensation, but an artist with more than 15 unexplained massive hits and a career that is already heading for the “Greatest Hits Vol. 1.“ Unexplainable. In all other parallel dimensions, Katy Perry just had one hit ('I kissed a girl') and disappeared from pop culture, as it should be.

In the same way, Johnny Mnemonic feels like a movie from another dimension. One where Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell didn’t exist. Seeing Keanu Reeves in a suit, being a walking 80GB hard drive (just like my iPod classic), calling himself “Smith”, and plugging things to his brain to smuggle data, it seems like a distorted fever dream, a product of seeing The Matrix, an Ice-T video, and an episode of Flipper.

But it isn’t. Johnny Mnemonic was released in our reality and most likely—although nobody would admit it—was the unofficial casting and the main reason why we came to know Keanu Reeves as Neo.

Johnny Mnemonic is a rarity whose existence must be appreciated, though. It’s a project that was born thanks to the effort of a legendary writer and practicall creator of the cyberpunk sub-genre, William Gibson, and a painter/sculptor with little experience directing music videos, Robert Longo, who, considering the context, did a praiseworthy job.

Somehow, this movie was also a victim of the times. Gibson and Longo wanted to make a modest and artistic low-budget film, but they didn’t obtain financing for that small vision. With the imminent popularization of the internet and the communication paradigm about to live a gigantic revolution, Sony Pictures saw in this project the possibility of connecting this cyberpunk tale with the impending mainstream trend. 30 million dollars later, the shell of Johnny Mnemonic looked better but corporate responsibilities diluted its soul.

Because there’s no other way around it; Johnny Mnemonic is a flawed movie. In addition to the sympathetic overacting of Keanu Reeves, this film had Henry Rollins impersonating a mad doctor, Ice-T disguised as a Mad Max extra, Takeshi Kitano, the always captivating Dina Meyer, and Dolph Lundgren as a cybernetic false messiah (robes and beards and all!) with a cross-shaped knife. It has killer yakuza with laser whips, and even a freaking ultrasmart dolphin in a tank connected to 200 TV boxes a la Terry Gilliam. And yet, this movie manages to be boring.

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On paper, Johnny Mnemonic had interesting ideas with memorable, awesome cartoonish characters. Sadly, the execution ended up being way too sober. Longo took the task too seriously (perhaps because of the pressure of the responsibility) and didn’t commit himself to the obvious entertainment value of the script.

Longo’s vision would have worked if Johnny Mnemonic had engaged philosophical themes or social criticism. Cyberpunk often uses the theme of big evil corporations, but here it feels a little off and the movie is filled with gimmicks rather than an in-depth exploration of these subjects. Beyond the logical villainization of the pharmacological industry putting the profit before public health, this is a rather straightforward action-thriller that deserved a more risky and lighthearted direction.

Movie Details

Title: Johnny Mnemonic

Release Year: 1995

Director(s): Robert Longo

Actors: Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Dina Meyer a.o.

2 stars for Johnny Mnemonic

© 2018 Sam Shepards

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