"Johnny Mnemonic" is one of the great goofy gestures
of recent cinema, a movie that doesn't deserve one nanosecond of serious
analysis but has a kind of idiotic grandeur that makes you almost forgive it.
Based on a story by William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk fiction, it has the
nerve to pose as a futuristic fable when in fact all of its parts were bought
off the shelf at the Used Movie Store.
movie takes place a few decades in the future, when the world is in the grip of
a high-tech virus caused indirectly by the high-speed cyber lifestyle. It stars
Keanu Reeves as a data courier who has a "wet-wired brain" (no
wisecracks, please) into which vast amounts of priceless computer data can be
uploaded. Then he travels incognito to his destination, where the data is
downloaded. If he doesn't get his brain emptied out fast enough, it melts down
and he dies.
a method of data transfer, this stinks. Even today, it would be faster, easier
and safer to encrypt the data and send it by modem, and by Johnny Mnemonic's
time, the world will be wired with fiber optic cables allowing enormous files
to be squirted around the world in seconds.
why would you pump everything into Keanu Reeves' brain and then have a bunch of
bad guys from the Yakuza and other crime organizations chase him from China to
Newark? Because it's a movie, stupid. And because, in a concept recycled from
hundreds of other movies, he wants to make "one more final run" in
order to "pay for getting my memory back." (As Johnny explains in
dialogue that I think is supposed to be poignant, "I had to dump a chunk
of long-term memory - my childhood.") The plot of this movie is
breathtakingly derivative. In essence: The hero is entrusted with a valuable
cargo, which he must get from A to B without being killed by the bad guys or
stepping in anything. There is a pretty girl, evil villains, a weird prophet
and of course a violent final shootout in an Abandoned Flame Factory.
know what an Abandoned Flame Factory is; you've seen them a zillion times in
the movies. It's a big clanky warehouse where the hero and the villain stalk
each other for an ultimate confrontation, while pointless and sourceless sheets
of flame burst out as handy background visuals.) This plot could plug equally
well into a Western, a war movie, a samurai film or "Ace Ventura IV."
It is not about anything. Or, more to the point, it is the excuse for the
special effects. And those are good in this movie - really good.
liked the visuals, for example, when Johnny is getting his multi-gigabyte
download (the one that gives him nosebleed). And I especially liked a virtual
reality sequence where Johnny sort of goes inside the Internet and handles the
visualized programming instructions with his hands, which are wearing
problem is, "Johnny Mnemonic" uses the cyber-visuals entirely as
atmosphere. Take them away, and the plot could be a 1946 B picture, right down
to and including the concocted deadly deadline after a machine in the Newark
airport scans him and announces, "Neural seepage! Fatal within 24 hours!
Seek medical attention immediately!") The fiction of Gibson is much prized
on college campuses, where, I am tempted to say, its fans know more about
cyberspace than about fiction. That's why it's puzzling that this movie is so
dumb about computers. Where did it get the notion that the best way to get
information from Beijing to Newark would be to hand it to a courier and have
him travel the distance? Hey, a lot of people went to a lot of trouble to
invent computers and modems and satellites just to make trips like that
unnecessary. There have also been great advances in the art of cinema since
this plot was first recycled - but that's another story.