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  Johnny Mnemonic Brain Drain Pain
Year: 1995
Director: Robert Longo
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Takeshi Kitano, Denis Akiyama, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Barbara Sukowa, Udo Kier, Tracy Tweed, Falconer Abraham, Don Francks, Diego Chambers, Sherry Miller
Genre: Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 2021 and the world is in crisis thanks to runaway technology and the corporations that control it with an iron fist, not to mention the deadly disease N.A.S. which is hitting the nervous systems of many of the globe's citizens. In the middle of all of this is Johnny (Keanu Reeves), who makes his money as a courier, but does not carry his packages in a suitcase, he carries the information in his head. This is personally dangerous as he risks a mental breakdown, but it pays well so he has arrived in Beijing for a new mission, unaware that the information he will now carry is valuable enough to kill for...

William Gibson has never been served too well by the moving image, which is probably why his books have not exactly been snapped up by film producers hoping to make blockbusters out of them. The sole would-be runaway hit to do so to date, when he was at the height of his fashion for the exciting new world of computers and how they were going to make the planet a far better place, was Johnny Mnemonic, but the fact that it was dubbed Johnny Moronic by unimpressed commentators will offer some idea of how far it was welcomed by the public. With Gibson himself writing the script, you might have thought a validity and adherence to his notions would have been plain.

You'd think wrong, as Gibson's X-Files episodes proved not only were those concepts hard to convey on the screen, they didn't half look daft when such attempts were made. Part of the problem was that first time, and indeed last time, feature director Robert Longo thought he was making a Blade Runner for the nineties, so everything had that futuristic, gloomy dystopian look that already seemed past its prime. Another issue was that the filmmakers' shots at coolness landed them flat on their faces, with too much of the imagery appearing silly, and the yawning chasm between what you could see they were posturing towards and the actual results too much to ignore.

For many, it wasn't worth concentrating on the Gibson imaginative leaps, and now naturally their construction of what they used to call virtual reality looks about a billion years old in terms of what the twenty-first century actually held. But then, nothing dates like the future, so perhaps it was unfair to be too hard on Johnny Mnemonic: at least it tried. Tried to fill the running time with too much clutter, that is, with Reeves' hero encountering anything from laser-whip wielding Yakuza to Dolph Lundgren dressed up like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments as a religious fanatic cum assassin. If only it wasn't taking itself with such immovable solemnity then they might have been onto something.

As it was, remove all the trappings of science fiction and you had a very ordinary man on the run chase thriller, with Reeves failing to respond to the material in the way he would be right for those Matrix movies, which tried the same types of things but did them with far more mass appeal - for the first instalment, at any rate. Too much of this depended on connecting its plot to the crazy idea of the internet, then a novel set up, but now part of everyday life, which does the film no favours when you start to ponder over whether all that information might not have been better placed on a few memory sticks than put into the brain of Keanu Reeves. This did have a go at creating an emotional landscape as well as a technological one, so Dina Meyer showed up as the love interest, but with everyone swearing their heads off like there was no tomorrow just so we wouldn't mistake this for Star Trek, it was all too hard to accept on the level it wanted.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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