Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Genre: Action and Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: May 26th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Longo Actors: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Takeshi Kitano, Denis Akiyama, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Barbara Sukowa, Udo Kier, Tracy Tweed




ometime in the 2020s, corporations rule. The world is threatened by a new plague called Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, which is fatal, epidemic, and has no known cause or cure. Meanwhile, LoTeks, a resistance movement risen from the streets, which includes hackers, data-pirates, and other guerrilla fighters, engage in info-wars to invade older systems harboring governmental and societal secrets. The corporations hire the Yakuza – the most powerful of all crime syndicates – to defend them, sheathing their high-priority data in “Black Ice,” or lethal viruses that burn the brains of intruders. This requires that the most valuable info is entrusted to mnemonic couriers, elite agents who smuggle data in wet-wired brain implants.

In an overlong and silly introductory text crawl, the premise is explained, though it makes little sense. Essentially, humans have become living hard drives thanks to cutting-edge technology, used for sensitive digital information that can’t be compromised by ever-expanding and intrusive surveillance. Despite the futuristic setting, this flimsy concept doesn’t seem useful or safe, especially when brain damage can occur so easily.

In Central Beijing, Mr. Smith, alias Johnny Mnemonic (Keanu Reeves), takes one last job from his handler, Ralfi (Udo Kier, a dependable baddie), to acquire enough funds to get out of the business and to restore the longterm memory he substituted for commercial brain-space. But the upload, directly into a cerebral implant, consisting of R&D data for a pharmaceutical company, comes with a heavy price: armed gunmen storm the meeting and execute all the traders – save for Johnny, who manages to escape just in the nick of time. Of course, once he flees to the Free City of Newark, he must contend with synaptic seepage, neural failure, flesh mechanics, and mercenaries who want to cryogenically preserve his decapitated head.

Appearing like a blend of “Escape from New York,” “Demolition Man,” and the much lower-budgeted fare of “Barb Wire” (released afterward), “Circuitry Man,” or the “Nemesis” films, “Johnny Mnemonic” is fairly standard sci-fi outlandishness, full of bizarre characters, postapocalyptic environments, and explosive action. It also curiously combines older technology like faxing, VCRs, and primitive computer/television systems with more farfetched ideas like jacks into the brain and electronic body augmentation. At its heart, however, it’s an adventure, centered around fistfights, shootouts, chases, and other high-stakes violence.

“It feels like my brain’s gonna explode.” Teaming up with aspiring bodyguard Jane (Dina Meyer), and aided by LoTek head honcho J-Bone (Ice-T), Johnny must evade the murderous attempts of Yakuza assassin Shinji (Denis Akiyama), big boss Takahashi (Takeshi Kitano), and a religious maniac (Dolph Lundgren), all before his mind collapses from the overload of data. During these formulaic tribulations, as the film attempts to appear edgy and technologically speculative, it can’t help but to be a touch silly and thoroughly unconvincing. The action and sci-fi eccentricities work better, though they’re mostly precursors to far more refined projects like “The Matrix,” “Inception,” “Minority Report,” “The Fifth Element,” and even “Impostor.” It clearly has a difficult time creating an identity more memorable than the various individual pieces that would be reused in subsequent pictures.

The premise is further complicated by a somewhat unnecessary foray into the brain plague’s victims and a potential cure, which feed into a larger theme of society’s desire to devour greater and greater forms of technology. Such advancements are destroying the planet, right alongside mankind. Yet this message is unlikely to stick, especially when the climax involves a ghost in the machine, crossbow warfare, bad green-screening, absurd computer animation, and a super smart dolphin – elements so odd that they’re downright comical.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10