Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

(Second viewing, On Cable TV, November 2017) I first saw Johnny Mnemonic in theatres, on opening week, fully aware of what it meant for the cyberpunk subgenre to have none other than William Gibson scripting a big Hollywood movie. The mid-nineties were a heck of a time for a nerd like me diving deep in the Science Fiction pool, studying computer science and finally meeting like-minded persons. Johnny Mnemonic was a bit silly back then, but it felt like the future. Twenty-two years later … it has aged considerably, to the point that its silliness has been transformed in a patina of endearing retro-futurism. The unquestioned assumptions of cyberpunk are now vastly more entertaining as a fever dream of a future that will never be, than the harbinger of something to come. The movie’s special effects are exceptionally dated, the sets look cheap, the all-dark cinematography is annoying, the story is dull but the pile-up of clichés is now more spectacular than annoying. Then there’s Keanu Reeves, far too wooden to be effective—while I still like his “I want room service!” speech that more reluctant heroes should have, there’s something cruelly accurate in the 1996 jape that the film was unbelievable because it asked viewers to think that Reeves’s brain could hold too much information. Still, despite its faults, the film has now become almost an artistic statement in itself. Mid-nineties hair-down Dina Meyer is terrific (despite playing a watered-down version of Molly Millions), Toronto’s Union Station lobby and Montreal’s Jacques Cartier bridge both show up as settings, and there are short roles for no less than luminaries Henry Rollins and Ice-T. I’d be curious to know what Gibson thinks of it as a retro-futurist piece, especially given that one of his first stories (“The Gernsback Continuum”) tackled that very topic at a different time. But then again, there’s my personal connection to the film and how it touched upon what I was thinking about in the nineties, how I was anticipating the future and who I hung with (down to one of the minor characters looking a lot like a friend of mine.) No matter why, I enjoyed watching Johnny Mnemonic again … even though I still wouldn’t call it a good film.

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