Johnny Mnemonic” is high-tech trash — film as videogame. Scarcely the film Keanu Reeves needed as a follow-up to “Speed,” his commercial breakthrough last year, this hardware nerd’s paradise will attract a core youth audience to the star and futuristic computerized visuals, but won’t sustain strong business for long. Pic has done a solid, if not sensational, $ 6 million in its first three weeks of release in Japan, where it is showing in a version containing about 15 minutes of extra footage with Japanese co-star Takeshi.
With its nondescript look, hodgepodge cast and dialogue that seems dubbed even though it likely isn’t, this Alliance production startlingly resembles the polyglot international co-productions of the ’70s, notably the late, unlamented Canadian tax-shelter ventures. Everything seems patched together as if to meet some global commercial prescription, not to entertain or advance a coherent view of the future.
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This will come as a disappointment to fans of cyberpunk writer William Gibson , who penned the adaptation of his short story. Pursuit plot plays like a simple excuse for a vast display of elaborate but undramatic and unexciting computer-graphics special effects designed to show what’s inside Reeves’ head. On the evidence, there isn’t much.
Set in the year 2021, when vast corporations rule the world, pic features one bit of ingenuity, its premise, which sees Johnny (Reeves) outfitted with a computer chip in his head so that he can smuggle highly classified data from Asia to North America. Even though he has had a memory upgrade, thanks to which he has lost his recollections of childhood, the amount of information he has taken on is enough to make his noggin explode unless he gets downloaded in short order.
Chased by yakuza intent on obtaining the info for a giant corporation, Johnny makes his way to the Free City of Newark, a dismal urban ruin, and endures any number of confrontations, assaults and standoffs from those who might profit from the goods he carries, notably a vicious man of the cloth impersonated by Dolph Lundgren. Since baddies can’t kill belligerent young Johnny outright, as his brain needs to be kept alive to store the implanted chip, they merely want to decapitate him and keep the head going, suggesting that the most appropriate title would have been “Bring Me the Head of Johnny Mnemonic.”
Some desultory, darkly staged action scenes are a mere prelude to the long-awaited razzle-dazzle of Johnny’s downloading, an extended visual trip that seems intended as a modern equivalent to the stargate sequence in “2001,” but comes off as so much graphic doodling.
Absolutely zero human interest is generated by Reeves, who comes off as gruff , hostile and selfish, all in one dimension. Most of the other cast members are seen to equal disadvantage, though not at such length.
The computer special effects are slick and accomplished but unimaginative, and the film itself, directed by conceptual artist Robert Longo, possesses a gloomy look of unrelieved grimness without any specific character. Overall, pic’s conception of the future isn’t terribly original or inventive, and viewers not into the head trip of bigscreen computer graphics will want to download a lot sooner than Johnny does.