Awfully Good: Johnny Mnemonic

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Before you strap on the goggles for Spielberg’s READY PLAYER ONE, let’s take a look at another virtual reality “classic”…

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Director: Robert Longo
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Dolph Lundgren

A digital courier carrying highly sensitive information in his brain must stay alive long enough to figure out why everyone wants to kill him.


JOHNNY MNEMONIC is like that old friend from college who never grew up. He’s annoying and sort of embarrassing, but every time he comes in to town and you go out for a few drinks, you end up having a good time.

Make that a lot of drinks.

You haven’t experienced virtual reality until you’ve crane kicked someone in the KARATE KID simulator.

We’ve seen virtual reality depicted in many Awfully Good films—from LAWNMOWER MAN 2 to GAMER, and of course DEMOLITION MAN. JOHNNY MNEMONIC also has its own “unique” (hilariously bad) take on VR; however, there’s another movie you may get déjà vu from while watching this one. Perhaps a cyberpunk thriller where Keanu Reeves has something plugged in to his head, enters a virtual world, and is told he’s the only one that can save the human race? One that features someone named Mr. Smith and a computer program taking human form as a deus ex machina and explaining the entire plot? (Seriously, someone should sue the Wachowskis.)

Keanu Reeves’ actual face the first time he watched SPEED 2 and realized he wasn’t in it.

I recognize that this movie does not represent Keanu Reeves’ best work as an actor, but his stilted delivery, which mostly results in him yelling at everyone about everything, is just part of the title character’s charm. The script doesn’t offer much help when it comes to Johnny—a cliché anti-hero out for one last job before he can retire—but at least the fact that he’s had a big chunk of his brain deleted could explain the emotionless acting. Still, there are many memorable Keanu moments here (including a Sad Keanu precursor), but nothing is better than the soliloquy Reeves delivers atop a trash dump at the end of the second act, a self-reflection on what he feels he deserves in life that starts with him yelling, “WHAT THE F*CK IS WRONG WITH YOU?” and ends with him screaming to the heavens, “I WANT ROOM SERVICE!”

What happens at Udo Kier’s house stays at Udo Kier’s house.

On his journey, Keanu meets numerous recognizable stars, including STARSHIP TROOPERS’ Dina Meyer as Johnny’s bodyguard/forced love interest, Ice T as the leader of the resistance (who’s forced to say unfortunate lines like, “I’m J-Bone. I run Heaven”), Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, and even Zatoichi himself Takeshi Kitano. However, all these mortals pale in comparison to the true star of JOHNNY MNEMONIC—Dolph Lundgren. The action star plays a street preacher-turned-cyborg assassin named Karl who is dispatched to kill Keanu Reeves. If that doesn’t excite you, let me paint a clearer picture. Imagine in your mind Dolph Lundgren, dressed up like Digital Jesus, randomly popping up every now and then to violently murder someone while yelling out his catchphrase: “It’s Jesus time!”

Raise your hand if you’d watch a Jesus movie starring Dolph Lundgren.

It is amusing to think that this movie takes places less than three years from now, as the vision of the future seems ridiculous even by 1995 standards. (Including the brain’s 80 gig storage capacity.) Try not to laugh too hard when Keanu Reeves puts on his VR headset and gloves to surf the internet and physically has to grab things and solve puzzles to get information, or gets hurt in real life when he’s infected with a computer virus. Famed cyberpunk author William Gibson is credited with writing the screenplay (something he denies responsibility for), but the finished film bears little resemblance to any of the bold ideas found in his work. Really, aside from the VR stuff, the only visionary technology on display in the film is a motion-activated sink.

Sad Keanu.

Director Robert Longo is a painter and sculptor, with JOHNNY MNEMONIC being his one and only film. It’s tough to blame him given how the studio allegedly took away his film and recut it to try and broaden its appeal. It’s also pretty clear that this is not what Longo or Gibson had intended (and a longer Japanese director’s cut supposedly is closer to their version). There’s plenty of stupid elements (“Like, what if ‘the ghost in the machine’ was an actual ghost?!”), but the worst is how the movie doesn’t understand its own tone. There’s definitely an inherent humor to all the ridiculous things that happens in JOHNNY MNEMONIC that for some reason is played seriously.

VR Porn Keanu.

There’s no better example of this than the character of Jones, who is built up throughout the movie as the only person who can fix Johnny and extract the data from his head. Everyone talks about what a genius he is and his long career in the Navy. After all the deadly trials and tribulations, Keanu Reeves and his bodyguard/girlfriend finally make it to the headquarters of the underground resistance and meet Jones.

And, of course, Jones turns out to be a dolphin.

No, I’m serious. Keanu Reeves spends the entire movie waiting for someone to help him save his brain and instead comes face-to-blowhole with a cybernetic porpoise. What’s even more amazing is that the enhanced dolphin actually saves Johnny’s life more than once. First, the dolphin microwaves Jesus Dolph Lundgren just as he’s about to kill our hero. And then when Johnny uses VR to “hack” in to his brain to collect the information that could save the world, Jones joins him in the virtual world, meaning you get to watch a CGI cyber dolphin help Keanu Reeves’ avatar fight off literal viruses.

Yep, this is what the internet will look like in three years.

If you need any other reason to watch JOHNNY MNEMONIC, I don’t know what it is.

Keanu Reeves’ best line deliveries, including his amazing soliloquy.

The most hilarious moments involving hacking and virtual reality. BONUS: Dolph Lundgren getting killed by a dolphin!

Nada. Even the dolphin wears an outfit.

Got the Black Shakes? Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • The film correctly predicts something about the future
  • Something reminds you of THE MATRIX
  • There’s product placement for AT&T
  • Keanu Reeves has a digital seizure or flashback
  • Someone gets killed via laser lasso
  • Dolph Lundgren tries to talk to someone about Jesus

Double shot if:

  • A Volkswagen falls

Thanks to Carter and Brian for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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