Nothing dates faster than yesterday’s science-fiction. In fact, when I sat down to watch Johnny Mnemonic in my local Odeon back in lo-fi 1996, it already seemed a little old hat. Sure, Keanu Reeves was soon to blow our minds in sci-fi epic The Matrix, but first he had to, erm, just blow in Robert Longo’s adaptation of William Gibson’s book. To say the result was underwhelming would be an understatement; and yet, after several weeks of prevaricating, I requested a screener of Johnny Mnemonic, so was it as bad as I remembered?
The answer is, surprisingly, no, Johnny Mnemonic is way better than I remembered. At the time, I was looking for sci-fi action, and even though Reeves has a few trademarks moves, this is a very wordy film, scripted by Gibson himself. After a futuristic pre-credits scroll that would require a PHD to decipher, Reeves plays Johnny, a courier in the exotic locale of Newark. A courier for what? Information, stored in Johnny’s head, described as 60 Gigabytes. I used to play video-games that were 1k in size, so 60 GB seemed like a lot in 1996, but now? It’s about the size of the Star Wars films on blu-ray. That leaves not much space to spare in Johnny’s head because it’s about to burst if he can’t get to his clients and upload the precious content, but a number of obstacles get in the way including Ice-T, Udo Kier, Henry Rollins and a dolphin that seems to have wandered in from a Douglas Adams novel. Throw in Dolph Lundgren as a messianic assassin known as Karl ‘the street preacher’ Honig and you’ve got one big headache, right?
Nope. The multiple windowless interiors and endless tech-talk worked against Johnny Mnemonic becoming a Matrix-level hit, but viewed today, it’s an interesting variation on a familiar dystopian theme. This is a tech-noir, and we now know and recognise that Reeves is a perfect centre for this kind of fanciful thing. But plot developments that seemed bafflingly weird in 1996 seem straightforward now, and it’s easy enough to follow Johnny’s adventure, even when he goes off on a ranting tangent about getting his shirts freshly pressed. The supporting cast don’t exactly get the chance to shine, but the whole package just about delivers the cyberpunk goods; like it or not, but Gibson is the springboard that leads from here to Posessor and Tenet.
‘You should have knocked, baldy,’ quips Reeves as he dispatches another Yakusa good in a toilet stall; such un-iconic dialogue at least amuses by its directness. Gibson gets a lot right in his vision of the future, even if, like any others, he doesn’t see the ubiquitous quality of the mobile phone coming. But lovers of old-school tech will find plenty to amuse in the video-screen phone-boxes and other futuristic notions contained here; Johnny Mnemonic may not have got it right at the time, but 25 years later, it’s amazing how accurately this film does predict some, if not all, of today’s world.
Thanks to Vertigo Releasing and Fetch PR for early access to this title.
JOHNNY MNEMONIC ARRIVES ON ALL DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM TODAY, 10TH MAY 2021