A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Johnny Mnemonic

January 6, 2011

Johnny Mnemonic

Long before I read any of William Gibson’s books I played in his worlds. In college I had a cyberpunk role playing game based entirely on Gibson’s work. It was awesome and cool, full of strange technology and a bleak vision of the future. I loved just creating characters to play there, pushing the limits of how much tech you could pack into a single body without having the character descend into madness. In the late eighties, before mozilla when the internet was all gopher and unix command line I used to play in a cyberpunk game on a dial-up BBS that was all about staking a claim on the ‘net – hacking into corporation databases and trying to use black ice viruses to fry the brains of people trying to get your data. It wasn’t until years later that I finally got around to reading Mona Lisa Overdrive. By then my ideas of what the ‘net should be like were already being shaped, and it was mostly based on the imaginings of William Gibson.

So I have respect for his world building. But none of that prevents this movie from being unbelievably bad. I had heard some about how bad this movie was, but, really, it’s the kind of thing you have to experience for yourself. I remember one night flipping channels looking for something to occupy my time and coming across a cheesy looking low budget made-for-TV movie. I love bad cinema so I paused to see what it was and was kind of surprised to see Keanu Reeves show up on the screen. I did a bit of a double take. Because what I thought was something made for local cable access TV was actually a theatrically released movie.

So much of this movie looks so cheap. It’s not just that it’s dated. (Amanda and I both got a chuckle when Johnny logs on to the ‘net and there’s a modem dial-up noise.) It’s not that the world Gibson envisioned has failed to happen quite that way. (Virtual intelligences are part of his world by 2006. People used goggles and VR gloves to manipulate what appears to be one of the most confusing GUIs ever devised. Something like a mad combination of Second Life and Windows 3.0.) It’s that the production values are just low. The punkish future depicted is like the lower budget version of the world of Max Headroom. There’s a scene in a bar early on in the film that reminded me of the cheesy cinematics in the old PC game Privateer 2 (starring John Hurt I seem to recall.) I don’t know – maybe they blew their whole budget on the “cutting edge” computer graphics. If so I hope they kept the receipt.

For the first twenty minutes of the film I had a theory, which was this: director Robert Longo was concerned that Keanu’s awkward and wooden acting would ruin the film, so he instructed the other actors on the set to try and be more unwatchable than Keanu in an attempt to make him look good. Some of the performances here are just… awful. Particularly during the plot-exposition-heavy scene where Johnny first gets the head full of juju which haunts him for the rest of the movie.

Luckily there are a few bright spots here. I really enjoyed seeing Dina Meyer. I was worried for a while because her first scene in the bar is dreadful and she acts so poorly that I had trouble believing it was the same actress who played one of the only good parts in Starship Troopers. Soon, however she lets her hair down (literally) and actually manages to bring some life to the movie. Henry Rollins is also fantastic as the black-market meat mechanic Spider and manages to steal every scene he’s in. And Ice-T hams it up as the rebel LoTek leader J-Bone – though I kept wondering what happened to his kangaroo ears. (I am amused to note that his role as T-Saint was in the same year – was he being typecast?)

I’m actually pleased we own this. Because I do so love a bad movie. As we watched it Amanda kept asking “why do we own this?” I don’t have a good answer. I just like to torture myself I guess. And I like to be able to say “guess what awful movie I have?”

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January 6, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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