Sunday, June 4, 1995

Johnny Mnemonic

I love this movie – directed by Robert Longo based on the short story by William Gibson. (With a script by Gibson, adapting his original story.) It’s a fun ride. A heaping helping of comic-booky, lurid, cyberpunk fun. It has a few flaws, but they don’t spoil the ride.

In the not too distant future, data smugglers function as human zip discs with the aid of brain implants. One of these smugglers, the title character(Keanu Reeves), stuffs his skull with too much data. If he doesn’t get it out soon, he dies. (A literal case of too much information.) To make matters worse, an evil corporation is trying to kill Johnny before he can make the delivery.

That plot is, basically, an excuse for wretched excess – which is exactly the way I like it. This film has everything, people. Yakuza badasses. A ninja hitman with a one-molecule-thick filament wire in his thumb he uses to slice people to ribbons. Udo Kier, as a sleazebag who winds up getting sliced. Another hitman (Dolph Lundgren) who looks like Jesus on steroids who’s replaced every bone in his body with an indestructible metal skeleton. Ice T as the leader of the LoTeks. Henry Rollins, the lead singer from Black Flag, as an outlaw doctor specializing in cybernetic enhancements. Keanu Reeves, attempting to act.

OK. That’d be one of the flaws, I guess.

There’s a great speech where Keanu’s courier character screams about his need for classy hookers and nice suits. He doesn’t quite pull it off, but it’s OK. I know where he’s coming from.

Second flaw, Dina Meyer isn’t quite threatening enough as Jane (Molly Millions in the original story) – the badass freelance muscle girl who becomes Johnny’s protector.

The film's main flaw is mostly budget. Director Longo didn’t have enough money and it sometimes shows. But – being an artist before he was a director – he’s creative as hell and manages to fill his world with inventive, multilayered imagery that doesn’t seem like yet-another, derivative, Blade Runner ripoff.

On top of that, there’s some seriously subversive cyberpunk humor in Gibson’s script. I was constantly laughing my ass off. My favorite line?

Dolph Lundgren, as the pumped-up killer Christfigure, goes into a bar looking for information. The bartender, Hooky, has a high-tech, cybernetic hand. Dolph’s “Street Preacher” character looks around in disgust and utters something judgmental and prophetic.

Street Preacher: They err in vision, they stumble in judgment, for all the tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.

Hooky: You should have seen it before.


At the end of the movie, Dolph's metal-boned character is fried by a microwave burst from the junkie dolphin and a jolt from a severed high-tension wire he winds up holding in a ghastly parody of crucifixion. That’s comedy, people.

Gibson’s script puts the “punk” back into cyberpunk – “punk” as in sneering, disrespectful, anti-authoritarian, fearless, original and sarcastically vicious. Longo’s movie did justice to that material – though I was he had more cash to burn. Who cares? The ride was fun while it lasted.

I love this movie.

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