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'Johnny Mnemonic' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 27, 1995

Don't you just hate it when you've got to download and you can't find a rest stop on the information highway?

"Johnny Mnemonic," a bleak high-tech no-brainer gussied up with computer graphics, explores the consequences of too much input in a future wired for facts, but not for wisdom. Apparently, this thin, violent and unimaginative thriller itself is one of the worst of this phenomenon.

Keanu Reeves plays the title role of a sullen courier who smuggles classified information via a computer chip "wet-wired" into his brain. To accommodate the extra data, he has jettisoned his long-term memory. Still, when he agrees to transport a mega-load of input from Beijing to the Free City of Newark, Johnny bytes off more than he can chew.

Relentlessly pursued by a mob of corporate samurai, the courier must find his contact and download in 48 hours or lose both the cargo and his head. He might lose the last anyway, as the samurai have orders to place his head—but not the rest of him—in cryogenic storage till the chip can be retrieved.

Meanwhile, Johnny finds a love interest-bodyguard (Dina Meyer) and heroic allies in the LoTeks, guerrilla hackers engaged in an undeclared war against the sinister multinationals now dominating the world. The hackers are also after the information, which an evil pharmaceutical corporation has been secreting. It's the cure for NAS, a fatal neural disease that is now epidemic. Also known as "the black shakes," it is caused by "information overload" and yet it is also infectious.


Like "Blade Runner," "RoboCop," even the French "Delicatessen," "Johnny" is characterized by a mise en scene that is post-apocalyptic chic. Only this time, it's not TV or nuclear war or talking computers that have caused the worldwide rot, it's everybody knowing too much. That notion is positively medieval, but it comes from so-called cyberpunk visionary William Gibson, who based the screenplay on one of his short stories.

"Johnny" is a first feature film for both Gibson and director Robert Longo, an artist who has dabbled with music videos, and their inexperience shows in the repetitiousness of the story—one graphically gruesome fight scene after another—and the impoverishment of the characters. Even if Reeves could act, his character as written would be flatter than a floppy disk. Dolph Lundgren, as a born-again hit man, does a better job with his role and just might be the best thing in the movie. Now that's real science fiction.

Johnny Mnemonic is rated R for profanity and violence.

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