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
'Johnny Mnemonic' is not yet available domestically, but there is a Blu-ray release of the film from Japan, which is Region A/B/C compatible. All menu screens are in Japanese, though, so have fun navigating! This film is coming to Blu-ray domestically in June from Image, as one of the many Sony titles they are now distributing. This particular release will maintain its value, though, due to the inclusion of an extra that never has and probably never will be available domestically. More on that later!
Sony's Japanese release of 'Johnny Mnemonic' boasts a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode that's decent enough, even if it's somewhat run of the mill, without any major strengths or weaknesses. The film is fairly dirty, and I'm not talking about the in film debris, as random blips of dirt and a few light scratches pop up, spiking dramatically early. White levels are affected, and are often quite noisy, while the film has a few moments where the picture has a somewhat violent shake, that seems likely to be inherent in the film, rather than a telecine issue.
Detail levels aren't bold, but aren't soft, either. Reeves' stubble sometimes is razor sharp, while sometimes also looking painted on and smudgy. Textures aren't too bad, and are actually a step up from the on again off again detail levels. Grain levels aren't interfered with too much, but there are a handful of sequences where grain seems frozen in place. Skin tones are superb throughout, surprisingly, while black levels are a bit too bright for my tastes, even in a film that has a fairly dark aesthetic. There is some extremely light aliasing, but it seems more the problem of the dated special effects than the disc or transfer. The selling point on this release is that there are no annoying artifacts, and no banding, throughout the film. It's not a spectacular release, but fans probably aren't expecting that.
Is it more humorous or ironic that a "futuristic" film sounds like it's straight out of 1980? The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix for 'Johnny Mnemonic' has its ups, a few nice spots, but it's about as floppy and wimpy as a wet noodle.
From the moment the film begins, you may find yourself getting up and making sure your subwoofer didn't die on you. It's really strange, that this 5.1 mix is lacking the .1 so dramatically, but as numerous scenes go on, ones that should have had a nice healthy bump are tame and tranquil, you'll instead just see all the missed opportunities. The film is also relatively quiet, soft, even, with no power whatsoever, not in gunfire, not in explosions, not in any single aspect. It's just stuck in neutral. It's a shame, too, as the rears get a solid amount of random ambience, while dialogue never has a problem being heard over the other (meager) elements.
A note on this release: this disc defaults to having Japanese subs turned on, but they are removable. Concerned about the few lines in the film that are in Japanese? Don't be! Even with English subtitles turned off, the Japanese lines are subtitled, meaning they're probably burned into the image.
There's nothing on the DVD releases, so everything here goes in the exclusives area.
'Johnny Mnemonic' isn't what I'd call an amazing film, but it sure can be an interesting experience. This pre-'Matrix' Keanu Reeves sci-fi vehicle has some fun ideas, even if it has dated itself beyond belief as the years have flown past. It also doesn't help that this may be the weirdest, lamest Dolph Lundgren character in film history. The Japanese Blu-ray has average video and audio, but it makes up for it with an exclusive bonus cut of the film. Fans, I know this one is coming to America soon, but if you're HUGE on this film, you have to get the 'JM' cut of the film here. Worth a Look, for anyone else who's curious.
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.