In 2021, the whole world is connected by the gigantic Internet, and almost a half of the population is suffering from the Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (NAS). Johnny with an inplanted memory chip in his brain is ordered to transport the over loaded information from Beijing to Newark. While Pharmakom Industries supported by yakuza tries to capture him to get the information back, the Low-tech group led by J-Bone tries to break the missing code to download the cure of NAS which Johnny carries.
Directed by: Robert Longo
. Starring: Keanu Reeves
, Dina Meyer
, Takeshi Kitano
, Denis Akiyama
, Dolph Lundgren
, Henry Rollins
, Barbara Sukowa
, Udo Kier
, Tracy Tweed
, Falconer Abraham
, Don Francks
, Diego Chambers
. Music by: Mychael Danna
, Brad Fiedel
I say this without qualification - Johnny Mnemonic is a bad movie (and when I tell you that the most interesting things about the movie were the performances of Dolph Lundgren and Ice-T it should give you some inkling as to just what I'm talking about here). Worse, though, is the fact that it is a slovenly movie, which is to say that the worst of its problems could have been so easily avoided. Easily avoided, that is, had the studio possessed but the slightest faith in the discernment of the viewing public.
There are two things wrong with this film. The first is the casting of Keanu Reeves in the lead role. Casting Keanu in a movie is not in itself a mistake - he did turn in fine performances in Point Break and Speed after all. However, what we have here is an example of star-vehicle casting so blatant as to be unforgivable.
Every actor has roles for which they are suited, and roles they are not. You would not, for example, cast De Niro as the lead in a romantic comedy a la When Harry Met Sally. You would not choose Robin Williams to play a cold-hearted stone killer in a gangster flick. None of this common sense, however, prevented Tom Cruise being cast as an elf in Legend, Richard Gere trying his hand at Lancelot in First Knight, or Kevin Costner doing a star turn as Robin of Locksley in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. "Stars sell," bray the studio execs, and so we get Keanu attempting to portray a cyber-courier in a Blade Runner-style futuristic metropolis. Consider Ralph Fiennes' masterful performance in Strange Days. Consider Keanu's impersonation of a block of wood in Johnny Mnemonic. Then consider the respect the studio has for your intelligence.
The other problem with this film lies in the plot. Now I have to say that, Keanu's performance aside (and that unforgivable "What I want" speech towards the end, which is quite simply one of the most inane slabs of drivel I've ever been subjected to), I quite enjoyed this film while I was watching it. It was only later, upon reflection, that I began to grow angry at the way I had been insulted. Allow me a moment to explain.
When you go to see Raiders of the Lost Ark or the latest Arnie vehicle, you're not too concerned about the way the plot hangs together. You know it's just a good-time flick, and as such you're quite prepared to suspend your disbelief and what you know about the laws of physics for as long as it takes to get through the film. However, when you view a period piece, or a science-fiction film, or a psychological thriller, you expect the plot to be logical. You don't expect supposedly right-thinking characters to act in irrational or stupid ways, and you certainly don't expect to be affronted by situations and events grounded in anything less than logical extrapolation from the basic facts of the plot.
I'll give you a little example of what I mean. The movie climaxes in a battle between the Yakuza and a bunch of rag-tag rebels who have been attempting to undermine the corrupt society in which they live. These rebels are the sworn enemies of the corporations, and would doubtless be shot on sight by corporation goons if they could be located. The corporations would like nothing better than to rid themselves of these pests, and as such they live life on the edge, always travelling in packs, always on the run from the Man. You would therefore imagine that they would choose as their base some secluded hideaway where they are unlikely ever to be discovered, right?
Wrong. Their base is, I kid you not, a towering structure made of discarded metal located within spitting distance of the city. Not only that, but their first line of defence is to drop flaming cars on intruders who stray too near the main gate, creating explosions which would be visible for miles around. It seems to me that, short of erecting a neon sign on the roof, there is little more they could have done to make themselves any more conspicuous (but then if they'd been relegated to an underground bunker the final battle wouldn't have been nearly as exciting, would it?).
But even that's not the crowning idiocy. Picture this, if you will. The arch-villain is a high-ranking troubleshooter in the Yakuza. Given his stature in the organisation we can safely assume that he is known and feared by the populace at large, the stuff nightmares are made of. Early on in the piece he captures Keanu and threatens to decapitate him with the aforementioned piece of hardware. Keanu escapes, of course, and a chase ensues. It concludes with the hitman (who has evidently not thought to bring any of his associates along for protection, despite knowing the importance of his mission) stumbling like an amateur into a dead-end ambush set by the rebels (and there was, incidentally, no reason for them to be there in the first place, since they didn't know anything was going down. Did they just decide to leave the safety of their hideaway to go for a little late-night stroll through downtown Slumsville, the better to inhale some of that bracing evening smog? The more I think about it, the more it begins to fall apart.) Anyway, here we have a situation where the rebels finally have the drop on one of their (presumably) most feared and hated enemies, where they can blow him away without fear of repercussion (being as they are so well hidden in their satellite city on the outskirts of town). And so would you like to guess what they do?
They let him go. They let him walk, despite the fact that he's screaming words to the effect that he's gonna get them all, and good. When this scene was enacted there was head-shaking and groans all round, and in that moment we, the faithful viewers, were lost for good.
Contempt, pure and simple. The belief that we won't notice when we're being treated like morons, that near enough is good enough because, after all, it's only a movie.
And so I ask this of you - next time a movie like this insults your intelligence, do not shrug your shoulders, do not accept it on the grounds that it's only a movie, do not chalk it up to experience. Instead, get angry. Tell your friends, refuse to attend video evenings when you know it's on the menu, make it your mission to disparage the movie to everyone you meet, and give reasons so they don't think that maybe you're just lacking in taste. Hit the studios where it hurts, in the hip pocket, for by denying them even one extra ticket you're sending them the message that you will not be taken for a fool.
We'll call it your good deed for the day, and then you can leave that old lady standing at the crossing with a clear conscience.
Review by Andrew Howe from the Internet Movie Database.