Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
November 19, 2021 10:25 PM - Subscribe

In a dystopian 2021, Johnny is a data trafficker who has an implant that allows him to securely store data too sensitive for regular computer networks. On one delivery run, he accepts a package that not only exceeds the implant's safety limits--and will kill him if the data is not removed in time--but also contains information far more important and valuable than he had ever imagined. On a race against time, he must avoid the assassins sent to kill him and remove the data before it, too, ends his life.

The film is adapted from a short story of the same name by William Gibson, published in 1981 and the predecessor to Gibson's Sprawl trilogy of novels (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive); Johnny is mentioned in Neuromancer. The film differs from the story in a number of respects. Despite assisting with the marketing of the film, Gibson later said: "Basically what happened was it was taken away and re-cut by the American distributor in the last month of its pre-release life, and it went from being a very funny, very alternative piece of work to being something that had been very unsuccessfully chopped and cut into something more mainstream." It holds at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. It stars Keanu Reeves (whose performance was heavily criticized), and co-stars Dina Meyer, Beat Takeshi, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Ice-T, Udo Kier, and a dolphin.
posted by Halloween Jack (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I know it has poor reviews on rotten tomatoes but I remember thinking this was a bunch of fun as a younger person. Like it was dumb, but how can you not like a super smart dolphin? It's funny how small the amount of data is today.
posted by Carillon at 10:50 PM on November 19, 2021

It is a bunch of fun, although I'd still like to see the original cut that Gibson refers to. Johnny's "I want room service" rant is great, ditto Rollins squaring off against Dolph Lundgren. (Here's the two of them on set.) At least some of the dislike for this is probably based on its not being that faithful to the source material, or not getting an adaptation of the Sprawl trilogy proper (which I'd still like to see), but it's almost like a Gibson sampler: the prominence of Japanese characters and culture, the symbolic nature of cyberspace, an AI popping in at random, exotic weapons and warriors, an alternative underground cyberculture, and yes, what seems like not grasping how much data storage would expand.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:21 PM on November 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, and there's also the remarkable coincidence of Keanu, wearing a black suit and tie with a white shirt, using the pseudonym "Mr. Smith."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:23 PM on November 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wait, am I to understand that there is a director's cut of Johnny Mnemonic floating around out there? Come on, film preservationists! Maybe you could a break from finding three extra seconds of Metropolis under the floorboards of a Peruvian button factory and do something useful here
posted by phooky at 5:04 AM on November 20, 2021 [14 favorites]

There's actually a new cut in black and white that's been showing at festivals this year that I would love to see.
posted by rodlymight at 6:00 AM on November 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

I recall having mixed feelings but enjoying it. Did not know the cutting issue, someone should clue in n'flix or another streamer wannabe corporation that a new cut would be a big late-nite streaming draw.

A lot of the elements, like Lundgrens character were way over the top for most folks at that time, I don't think it would raise many eyebrows now, or even be considered as much scifi as a pre-docudrama.
posted by sammyo at 7:38 AM on November 20, 2021

Yeah, I don't remember if I enjoyed it as goofy schlock at the time, but it certainly hits differently in 2021. I mean, it's not great, but it's got a kind of charm now that I think it failed to hit on release.

I'd love to see the black and white cut, that sounds fantastic.
posted by Kyol at 7:43 AM on November 20, 2021

Like, I love almost all of Gibson's old short stories, but even at the time this was pretty goofy. Or it was goofy precisely because of when it was made.

Star-heavy casting.

I particularly liked Dolph Lundgren given rein to go chew scenery. I very much viewed him in a different way afterwards. The new cloth street preacher character was great all around.

My crush on Dina Meyer: developed and locked in.

iirc, the move mostly ignored Ralfi's cosmetic surgery to resemble a white nationalist performer with decades-long popularity, but given Trump, another bit of Gibsonian prescience.

Did like the monofilament weapon effect. Wished that 'Cyberpunk 2077' could have done it closer to how it was in this movie.

I definitely wouldn't have minded a much grittier more true movie retelling of the original short, though. Like the shotgun scene or a closer reimagining of the climb up to the 'killing floor.'

But given how 'New Rose Hotel' fared, I'm not surprised at the choices that the movie made.

(yes, NRH is pretty bad, but it's got Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe as Fox and X)

I'm thinking that 'Count Zero' could be a strong candidate for a movie reimaging these days, especially the Turner thread. The Bobby thread is hampered by that there's too much background (Neuromancer, Wintermute, "AI from Alpha Centauri") and the Voodoo thing could easily be done badly (qv 'CP2077' but I'd say it's done poorly, not quite badly). The Marly thread could be done a la 'Contact' (1997) re: eccentric super-billionaire.
posted by porpoise at 8:50 AM on November 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, when I first saw it I fell into the camp of being annoyed that it treated the original story with insufficient reverence, but now that I'm older and wiser I've mellowed on that point. Instead, I wish they got to be more stylistically bizarre.
posted by RobotHero at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2021

I've only seen this movie once. I think I wrote a review of it at the time. But I'm not going to hunt for it now. Suffice to say, Keanu's "I want room-service" rant was worth the price of admission for me.
posted by Stuka at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

People should really read the interview with the director, Robert Longo, in the link that rodlymight posted. Lots of interesting background on the movie.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:22 AM on November 20, 2021

In response to the interview with Longo, Gibson wrote that they "had originally assumed we were making a one-million-dollar B&W art film, but...things happened.", which also makes me really want to see what they had intended. In my mind I'm envisioning something like Pi, but with more cyberpunk and fewer ants.
posted by autopilot at 11:35 AM on November 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you ever get a chance to visit alternate reality T27, make sure to check out the Jim Jarmusch version of this movie. Try to imagine Strange Days, but filmed like Down By Law (parts of it using a PXL-2000). R116 is also worth a trip, for Wim Wenders' take: somewhere between (our versions of) The American Friend and Until The End of the World.
posted by bartleby at 1:23 PM on November 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's a goofy thing, but I enjoy this movie. Maybe because it not quite takes itself completely seriously? For me, it works in a sort of "cyberpunk is batshit weird anyway, so just roll with it and have fun" way. In some ways, I like this "Keanu in a sci-fi flick" better than the Matrix version of "Keanu in a sci-fi flick".
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on November 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

you're all in luck, because you can just turn your screen black and white to watch the new "cut." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I, at one point, thought about re-editing, but then I realized if I just turned it black-and-white that would be the best, easiest thing to do, and the most radical way of kind of imprinting how I really wanted it, because I wanted to make it in black-and-white originally.
posted by rebent at 6:32 PM on November 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

update: yes, it is indeed fantastic in black and white. I turned on the color occasionally, and was.... well, I struggled with how vivid and unrealistic the colors were, compared to the natural, artistic shadowplay of b&w. what a corny, wonderful movie.
posted by rebent at 8:21 PM on November 22, 2021

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