I never had a problem saying mnemonic before. I mean, it's spelled weird, but I always found it easy enough to say. That was then, this is now. When 'Johnny Mnemonic' won a High-Def Digest "Review Request Line" vote, I was discussing the results with someone I know... only, I found myself stuttering and stammering the title like I had some kind of speech impediment. Nmmommmii..... munnonnic... numoninonic.... it was quite embarrassing. Perhaps not as embarrassing as having 'Johnny Mnemonic' forever on one's resume (to be fair, even if it's a good film, it's damn cheesy), but still, I didn't feel all that smart that day. But I sure did feel all smarmy and intelligent as soon as I finished the film, as the myopic portal into the future was about as short-sighted as Mr. Magoo.
Films like this are why the phrase "guilty pleasure" exists. For a film that pondered the near future (2021, to be precise, a good 26 years from the date the film was released), it is already so very wrong that at times it's laughable. Just think about it. Ten years from now, do you think people will say things like "I need to get online... I need a computer!"? Didn't think so. I mean, we have TVs, video game systems, and phones that hop online (and books, if you count goodies like the Kindle) already, yet ten years from now, a suave and well dressed Keanu Reeves is going to need a computer and some funky gloves? What gives? And don't even mention the discussion of memory size, just don't do it.
Robert Longo's film adaptation of the William Gibson short story is a weird mishmash of technology and acting, both of which date themselves drastically as the film progresses. It's full of deus ex machinas, as well as some rather silly plot lines that are shoved down our throats like some sort of warning of danger, and then the danger is never realized. Johnny (Reeves) is a smuggler of sorts, with an implant in his brain allowing for the transfer of data from place to place. He can call himself a courier all he wants, but that's just like calling a prostitute an escort... the fancy title doesn't exactly impress. He has a whopping 80GB capacity, and a fancy tool that can double the space temporarily. His newest assignment, which he hopes is his last before he can ditch the gear and regain his own memory and life? 320GB. Exactly double what his doubled capacity is. Overloading his capacity can cause synaptic seepage, which will kill him if he holds the data too long.
Ah yes, the ticking time bomb storyline. Johnny is put on the clock, and when the Yakuza come after his head and the secrets it contains, it's a race against time, a pissed off mob, and anyone else who gets in the way. Conveniently placed friends in all the right places will help, as will a radical group called the LoTeks, who are ruled by Ice-T, a hooker... sorry, bodyguard with a heart of gold named Jane (Dina Meyer in her film debut), and a doctor who can possibly help get the data out (Henry Rollins). But watch out, action Johnny! Takahashi (Beat Kitano), a Pharmakom exec, is going to great lengths to get that data back, including hiring the world's most ridiculous bounty hunter ever. Quake in fear, all ye who enter here, as Dolph Lundgren will don his Street Preacher robes and cane, and smite you if you're a sinner... or have a price on your head!
Going in to 'JM' for the first time, I expected to get a kick out of Lundgren, and be bored to tears by the wood plank era (read: entire career) Reeves performance, yet, somehow, it went the other way around. Street Preacher was a pathetic joke, who got a kick out of causing his own kind of stigmata, yet was lacking in any sense of intimidation. Reeves, meanwhile, had me in stitches throughout the film, with his overacting, ridiculous lines (and line readings), and all out unlikability. It was fun seeing him being called Mr. Smith, while wearing a suit and being mankind's best hope ('Matrix' fans, you know what I'm talking about), but the forced plot twists seemed too general for me to give a damn.
In a futuristic world ruled by prosthetics and implants, disease makes sense, especially since there are apparently no more sanitary workers in the future. Yet, NAS (Nerve Attenuation Syndrome), the film's big disease and AIDS parallel, is never shown killing anyone. The "black shakes" just show one character convulsing, and an entire floor of a complex full of those suffering from it. I'd be more interested if there were piles of bodies outside, stacked up to your head. You know, sell it. Instead, we get the late comments that the companies in charge are withholding a cure as they're making more money treating the disease than defeating it. Political shenanigans. The attempt to be edgy fails. The disease subplot fails, as does the synaptic seepage. Wow, he gets a few nosebleeds, and sometimes is dizzy. Wooooo, scary.
'Johnny Mnemonic' is dorky in that way, over the top and deliciously hammy. It's a fun movie to watch, just for the sheer insanity and lack of logic. It's also cool that there is at least one high tech weapon in the film that's severely kick ass, one that is responsible for a very, very cool decapitation sequence. There's no reason to connect to any of the characters, so it's really neat to watch some of them drop like flies. The lack of drama and tension, as well as the Jesus parallel found late in the story, hobble the film, but really, it's tough to not like it for what it is. This is mindless entertainment trying to be intelligent. It's like the goober who tries to throw big words in a sentence to sound intelligent, and sounds even more moronic than he does when talking about NASCAR. 'JM' is a film for when you want to give your brain a rest, to just relax and watch a dystopian future that will never, ever happen. You may find yourself asking why you can't use a doubler on your doubler, or why they don't have quadruplers in the future. If we have disc drives that can read fifty to a hundred times faster than they play, why the future is stuck at double is just a silly little gimmick. Just like the entire film. It's enjoyable trash.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Bowing three years after the Japanese import, the domestic release of 'Johnny Mnemonic' comes from Image Entertainment, who are distributing a number of Sony catalog titles. What was a Region A/B/C BD50 in Japan is now a Region A marked BD25, with no packaging frills, and no real extras to speak of. That's right, folks. The Japanese extended/alternate cut of the film, titled 'JM,' is not found on this release, nor are any other extras, save for the trailer.
There is no pre-menu content on this release, and the menu itself features full motion video and an audio loop. The audio setup tab for this release is only for subtitles, as there is only one audio track to be found.
Image's Blu-ray release of 'Johnny Mnemonic' features a 1080p, 1.85:1 framed AVC MPEG-4 encode that isn't different enough from the Japanese import to make a real difference.
Yes, the text opening makes the blocking (due to the age of the effects) more apparent, but the rest of the film is a wash. Grain levels remain strong, save for frozen sequences due to utilizing stills, and dirt blips can be pretty excessive, particularly in Takeshi's first scene. Facial features are hit or miss, as are details in general. Artifacting is incredibly sparse, but black levels are far too bright, special effects add-ins stand out more than ever (not the fault of the transfer at all), and there are occasional haze and noise issues. Still, the release is free from DNR, edge enhancement or ringing.
Passable, but not extraordinary or exceptional in the least.
What a difference a few years makes. The differences between the Japanese and American 'Johnny Mnemonic' Blu-rays isn't so much an issue of Dolby TrueHD vs DTS-HD Master Audio, so much as they are space and quality of source. While the video is pretty much a wash, the listening experience found on this release is a big step up.
Bass levels are dramatically enhanced, though the entire audio works to get a jump out of you at times, with solid volume spikes, an active full room presence that fades when appropriate and is never awkward, and proper directionality. Sure, explosions lack punch and gunfire is all pop with no roar, but this track has no static beneath effects or dialogue, no prioritization issues, and no clarity or discernibility problems, all coupled with front and centered focussed dialogue and plenty of rear activity to keep you engaged.
This is a very good track!
The only extra here is the Theatrical Trailer, in HD. The trailer is quite goofy, with only a few of the trademark lines. So, to offset the audio differences between releases, we have this shortage. Hooray...not so much.
This dated sci-fi thriller may have aged much, much worse than, say, 'The Matrix, and has some problematic thematic issues and some pacing problems, but it's still a fan favorite, a goofy, awkward AIDS parallel mixed with plenty of "futuristic" devices. The question here is which version to buy? If you care about audio quality, this domestic version is the clear winner, but if you want actual extras, or live in Europe, the Japanese version is the obvious winner. Either way, it's no more impressive on one disc or the other visually, so if that's all that matters to you, this much cheaper version may be the way to go!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.