‘IF…my head doesn’t blow up first’: A Review of Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

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Ah, it’s finally here, isn’t it? I finally get to review Johnny Mnemonic!

Directed by Robert Longo and adapted by our beloved William Gibson (based upon his short story), Johnny Mnemonic’s plot is as follows:

‘Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is a data courier who has a secret stash of information implanted into his mind. However, the data will kill Johnny if he cannot retrieve it within 48 hours. Accompanied by physically enhanced bodyguard Jane (Dina Meyer), Johnny sets out to acquire the passwords he needs to save himself. Worse yet, he is hunted by gangster Shinji (Denis Akiyama) and businessman Takahashi (Takeshi), both of whom seek the data Johnny possesses.’

Can you smell the Styrofoam sets, and feel the cheap plastic props? I know I can, and it’s everything I love about the humble Johnny Mnemonic.

Johnny Mnemonic is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine and the reason why I don’t want a modern adaption of Gibson’s Neuromancer. The chunkiness of tech, the drab costumes, the baffling animations, and most importantly, the unusual cast of characters. With all of that in a blender, a bit of booze and sweat, you have Johnny Mnemonic.

The strongest aspect of the film is Gibson’s exploration into the negative effect our capitalist/consumerist society has on the individual. Though it cannot compare to his short story, the film does a lovely job of dissecting the relationship between human and machine, meat and metal. This is primarily accomplished via the journey with Johnny on his Blade Runner-eqsue quest for his memories.


‘If I wanted the silicon dug out of my back brain I would have gone to Mexico City! I want a full restoration; I want it all back!’

Unable to remember them after a cranial upgrade, Johnny must make enough money for regenerative surgery, but only after he unloads the data uploaded in his brain. As you could tell in my pseudo-review of Blade Runner 2049, I’m a sucker for films that dabble in the intermingling of tech and body. I admire the concept of smuggling data in one’s mind and felt it worked well in this adaption. Though it veers on being heavy-handed with its primary theme at times, Johnny Mnemonic excels when it immerses the audience in the world meticulously designed by Longo and Gibson. The bulky tech, the unusual cast, the claustrophobic sprawls—it’s all here, and it’s magnificent!

However, out of all the oddities, I found myself drawn to the street preacher, Karl Honig, depicted by action star, Dolph Lundgren. There’s something endearing about the menacing Jesus-bearded preacher that promoted God through violence, and I found myself wanting him to stay on the screen more and more if only to listen to the tainted orchestral score that haunted the soundtrack as he went for the kill.

‘They err in vision, they stumble in judgment, for all the tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.’

While I love this film, it is far from perfect. For one, there is no Molly Millions. I’m fine with loose adaptions, but Dina Meyer’s Jane was no substitute for our tough-as-nails cyber chick Molly. It was a misstep for Gibson not to include one of his more memorable characters, something that borders on farcical.

In fact, I felt that the weakest part of Johnny Mnemonic was the acting of its primary character—Johnny. For every Lundgren and Takeshi Kitano in Johnny Mnemonic, you got the cringy Ice-T and Keanu Reeves. I’m usually a Reeves apologist, but unfortunately, the blandness did get to me in this film. I love you Keanu, but no, not in Johnny Mnemonic. There was no life, no spark, no joy or anger or love or fear—just a white face locked behind a suit and an awesome VR set hooked psionically to a suped-up cyborg dolphin (the cyborg dolphin, Jones, is awesome by the way).

‘He’s that guy… who fucks your mother!’

I’m not going to start with Ice-T. Not going there. Not at all…though I will mention briefly that his costume did remind me of John Travolta’s Terl from Battlefield Earth

On a technical level, the film was shot well and the soundtrack was suitable albeit forgettable (except the street preacher’s theme!). While some effects do hold up, objectively, the CGI does not and is, at times, laughable. But if you’re someone like me, and you find mid-nineties graphics kitsch, you will find it endearing, especially when Johnny hacks into his mind. The script could have done with a bit of fine-tuning as well, but that is just a minor gripe.

Overall, Johnny Mnemonic is as Johnny Mnemonic was supposed to be, and that is fun. Yes, Reeve’s acting is borderline terrible, and there is not enough of Lundgren (there is never enough Lundgren), but Longo and Gibson deliver what I feel are one of the coolest cyberpunk films to date. It is no Blade Runner, but it’s not supposed to be. The thing I love most about cyberpunk is that even in its schlockiest incarnations, it often delivers poignant themes and messages.  Johnny Mnemonic does exactly that whilst remaining faithful to the genre itself. If you’re itching to watch this film, or maybe want to read it first, you can do so here and here. Make sure to watch the director’s cut/Japenese release for extra scenes that are well worth it!

‘Maybe it’s not just about you anymore.’

Johnny Mnemonic – 6/10


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5 Responses to “‘IF…my head doesn’t blow up first’: A Review of Johnny Mnemonic (1995)”

  1. Nice review, is my gulti pleausere this film too and is a pity that with a gibson scrip the movie not become a better film.

    Some extra info on your review

    “While I love this film, it is far from perfect. For one, there is no Molly Millions. I’m fine with loose adaptions, but Dina Meyer’s Jane was no substitute for our tough-as-nails cyber chick Molly. It was a misstep for Gibson not to include one of his more memorable characters, something that borders on farcical.”=>
    The change of Molly to Dina was a producers request, because Molly had to be in the neuromancer movie that will be produced after jony mnemonic (but never happen)

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