Saturday At The Movies: Johnny Mnemonic

In 1984, an unassuming technophobic geek from Vancouver named William Gibson penned one of, if not the, seminal works of what would later be called cyberpunk. The book, Neuromancer, was a tale of computers, espionage, and artificial intelligences that took the science-fiction world by storm, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards. He had also written a number of other short stories, which were later collected in the book Burning Chrome, and one of these stories, Johnny Mnemonic, was later made into a film of the same name in 1995.

I saw Johnny Mnemonic around its release, and it was bloody awful. Barring a few interesting bits of music, the film is one catastrophe after another, and it makes one’s teeth itch regularly throughout. The other day, for some masochistic reason, I decided to re-watch the film for the first time in almost twenty years to see if it was quite as bad as I remembered. It did not disappoint.

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Gibson wrote the screenplay to this laser-light disco of an excrescence, which just lends further credence to my claim that Gibson cannot, and should not, ever write dialogue. Now, admittedly, the acting is what truly turns this film into the monster it is, but with lines like “I WANT ROOM SERVICE!” screamed from a dishevelled Reeves atop a junk pile beneath a dilapidated bridge, I couldn’t help but cringe. In fact, I cringed through the entire film, from its trite, incredibly dated beginning, through ham-fisted action sequences, and mid-1990s computer graphics (The Lawnmower Man, anyone?).

And it was fucking glorious.

The plot is barely sensical; the actors all deserve their own Johnny Mnemonic category at the Razzies; the action scenes are deplorable; the computer animation is laughable; the villains are caricatures of caricatures; and there’s an ex-army, computer-hacking dolphin. This is the stuff of cinematic genius; it’s so bloody awful that you cannot help but smile through the entire thing.

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The film’s two main stars, Keanu Reeves and Dolph Lundgren, are especially bad. Reeves is his typical stilted, trying-to-be-cool-but-failing-miserably self (I know he’s not always bad – just often) playing a cyber-courier jacked up with too much information in his head, and Lundgren, well, he’s a Jesus freak with a barbed crucifix knife hyped up on body augmentations. You figure it out. Every time either of them spoke, I burst out laughing. Their final fight was something out of a really badly executed Chip ‘n’ Dale cartoon, which eventually results in Lundgren bursting into flame.

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In retrospect, I wonder if the filmmakers really were trying to make the Blade Runner of their generation, a goal which was underachieved with spectacular fashion, or they really were treating it as something a little more tongue-in-cheek. It’s irrelevant; the film is a disaster, but it is pure cheesy entertainment.

I now want the Blu-ray . . .

PS It’s also got Ice-T and Henry Rollins 🙂

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