In 1980s cyberpunk was definitely the most popular sub-genre of literary science fiction, with plenty of new, young and talented writers exploring new, dark but fascinating high- tech world of near future. However, for some strange reason, the attempts to recreate this world on the screen (with some notable exceptions) usually fell flat. Not even William Gibson, the father of the sub-genre, could escape this sad fate, as demonstrated in Johnny Mnemonic, 1995 screen adaptation of his best known short story, directed by Peter Longo.
The plot is set in 2021, in a world run by multinational corporations, where the information is the most valuable commodity. Because of the hackers, the most precious information is not transmitted via Internet, but by human couriers with implanted memory chips in their heads. One of those couriers is Johnny (played by Keanu Reeves), whose is greedy and agrees to double capacity of the chip and risks having his own brain melting down. While he carries information from Beijing to Newark, rival corporation has hired yakuzas led by Takahashi (played by Takeshi Kitano) to steal the information from his head. The only shelter for Johnny is the underworld ruled by LoTeks led by J-Bone (played by Ice-T).
Even those accustomed to the good literature turning into bad films would be unpleasantly surprised by Johnny Mnemonic. Gibson, who wrote and produced the film, wasted almost entire screen potential of his short story. New characters and subplots were introduced, mostly in order to provide film with an interesting cast (that includes Japanese cult director Takeshi Kitano, rock star Henry Rollins and German actress Barbara Sukowa) and bring ecological and "politically correct" anti technological angle to the story. But all those efforts failed miserably, not only because those subplots seemed to be artificial distraction to the story, but also because of the terrible miscast of wooden Keanu Reeves as protagonist (whose flat performance is even worse compared to Dolph Lundgren's hilarious portrayal of homicidal preacher) and tragic choice of director. First-timer Peter Longo, who had worked on music videos, proved to be unsuitable for feature film. Action scenes are unattractive and repetitive, while special effects are bad and often turn into boring display of cheap pyrotechnics. The whole atmosphere of cyberpunk world is missing from Johnny Mnemonic, and anachronistic soundtrack by Michael Danna and Brad Fiedel doesn't help either. Because of all that, Johnny Mnemonic is one of the worst cinema failures of 1990s, and the audience really doesn't have to find out why the fans of the original story nicknamed this project "Johnny Moronic".
RATING: 2/10 (-)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on October 15th 2001)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/9886-johnny-mnemonic?language=en-US