Nicola Austin takes a look at the 25th Anniversary release of Johnny Mnemonic
Growing up with dystopian science fiction films such as Blade Runner, Demolition Man and Total Recall, I can’t believe Johnny Mnemonic passed me by. With the newly released HD version marking the film’s 25th anniversary, I just had to check the cult classic out and finally tick off this lost gem in Keanu Reeves’ filmography. But does the big-screen adaptation of seminal writer William Gibson’s sci-fi short story still hold up to its cult status?
Directed by Robert Longo, Johnny Mnemonic centres on data traffickers, known as Mnemonic couriers, who are hired to carry sensitive data implanted in their heads, shielded from cyberspace hackers. One of the best couriers, Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is employed by a huge corporation to transport vital raw data in ‘one final run’. However the data is seriously hot property, attracting deadly attention from the Yakuza and a deranged street Preacher (Dolph Lundgren). If Johnny fails to deliver the information within 24 hours, his overloaded brain will cease to function.
William Gibson cyberpunk influence
It’s clear to see the influence visionary cyberpunk author William Gibson has had on science fiction, particularly with properties such as The Matrix series and Cyberpunk 2077 game. There’s also been several attempts to adapt his seminal novel Neuromancer, with Deadpool director Tim Miller most recently attached to the project. Despite this, Johnny Mnemonic, which featured key elements of Gibson’s work, a star-studded cast and exciting cyberspace sequences, disappointingly only recouped $19m of it’s original $26m budget in America. The film was supposed to be the springboard to launch a whole series of films from Gibson’s rich library, so what went wrong?
Personally I had a lot of B-movie fun with this film, particularly with the more ridiculous elements such as Dolph Lundgren’s bonkers turn as the vengeful preacher, the brilliant laser whip and the crazy ultra-genius cybernetic dolphin. There’s also a number of intriguing plot threads included, such as the side-effect of humanity’s dependence on technology known as Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (NAS) and the exploration of cybernetic surgery via Dina Meyer’s tough female bodyguard.
Lo-fi production and costumes
However, there are a number of undeniable issues with the sci-fi instalment, namely the lo-fi feel of the production and costumes, particularly when it comes to the Lo-Teks. The anti-techology clan really don’t look all too dissimilar from resistance group, the Scraps, from Demolition Man, with the addition of goggles and face paint. Furthermore, the visual effects used in the virtual reality sequences are also glaringly dated, paling in comparison to the VFX used to bring the T-1000 to life in James Cameron’s Terminator sequel.
As an unapologetic lover of dystopian sci-fi B-movies, Johnny Mnemonic is an amusingly enjoyable, but hugely flawed, slice of 90s cyberpunk. While it’s certainly not one of Reeve’s best performances, it’ll certainly tide me over till Matrix 4 and John Wick: Chapter 4.
Johnny Mnemonic is available on digital platforms in HD from 10th May 2021.