THE F*CKING BLACK SHEEP: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Directed by Robert Longo

“Sometimes even a shit sandwich has appeal. It just takes a few bites to figure that out.”

Six years before The Matrix, Keanu Reeves made Speed, and then the dude became a bon-a-fide star. Sure, he was known for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and surprisingly he was cast in Dracula and Point Break (he played a cop, but a surfing cop), but it wasn’t until Speed that folks saw him differently. Sure, he couldn’t shake that goofy, expressionless stare, but now he could carry a big-time picture. Suddenly, the public bought him as an action star. And that’s not an easy task.

With all that success, however, reason would dictate that he’d follow it up with a guaranteed smash. Instead, he gave the world the gift of Johnny Mnemonic. Yes, the cyber-punk film that features everyone from Henry Rollins to Ice-T to Dolph Lundgren to Takeshi Kitano to Jones dolphin. In a way, it’s a good thing he went for such an odd choice, because it let the world know where his career was headed. For every box office hit, he’d make five shit sandwiches that people discarded as soon as they got a taste. However, sometimes even a shit sandwich has appeal. It just takes a few bites to figure that out. If you’ve only sat through Johnny Mnemonic once, give it another shot knowing what’s in store. It’ll leave a better taste.

Johnny Mnemonic is both awesome and horrendous. On the awesome side, it’s got Keanu playing Keanu at his most Keanu-ish as he stars as a high-tech futuristic delivery boy in a world (2021, that’s in nine years!) that has bypassed flash disks and routed the information directly into our brain. Problem is, the info Keanu has stored in his melon is too much, and either he delivers it or dies trying. That’s a damn cool premise. Plus, he has to battle the evil Yazuka, lead by the badass Kitano who wants what’s in his head. That’s great all alone.

Then there’s the technology. A good cyber-punk movie is obsessed with anything and everything tech, and this being a dystopian film adds that layer of grit that makes the computers and hardware seem so much more punk. In 1995, the Internet was still a newborn in the minds of the masses, and this film actually predicted a lot of shit somewhat right. Regardless, any movie that strives to be so high tech effectively usually sucks within the next decade, but most of this gear here doesn’t seem flat out stupid. Actually, I remember seeing Mnemonic as a kid and was blown away by what the future could bring. No, I still can’t plug my iPhone into my skull (yet), but honestly does that seem far-fetched anymore? Ok, so…virtual reality never quite took off, but the movie was close in showing us what the Internet would become. Actually, now that I think about it I’m a little pissed we don’t have those fancy gloves and the giant silver super goggles for Google searches.

While it’s easy to goof on the cast, everyone here is game, notably Mr. T (is that what you’d call Ice in a formal situation?) as the leader of the rebels. I always thought Henry Rollins was an underrated actor (dude has energy), and Dolph Lundgren has a ball a street preacher assassin. Keanu doesn’t exactly take his role too seriously, but how could he with lines like, “You got parents and stuff? Or “I want to get online. I need a computer!” Or even better, the infamous room service line, where as the weight of the world rests on his giant shoulder pads, he breaks down and wants to be pampered at a Best Western (or whatever hotel he says). Johnny Mnemonic never takes itself too seriously, which is probably why many folks don’t dig it. But that’s fine. Few movies can balance drama and super cheese with sci-fi and super smart dolphins who can decode anything. Yeah. That’s not easy to do.

So what’s the horrendous? It’s a matter of perspective. If you hate this movie, then all above is horrendous. However, if you pull that wedgie out of your ass, an imperfect movie awaits. Johnny Mnemonic isn’t top-level sci-fi great, but it’s damn entertaining if you like Dolph and dolphins in the same movie.





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