Incredibly, four years before The Matrix threw him into super stardom, Keanu Reeves played a character (albeit briefly) who wears a simple black suit with straight tie called Mr. Smith. That’s such an uncommon name the coincidence just can’t be ignored…
He really plays Johnny (just ‘Johnny’… like Cher) of the title, a mnemonic courier who smuggles information in the wetwired circuitry implanted in his head. He has a capacity for 80 gigabytes but using a ‘doubler’ (a compression engine) he extends his capacity to 160Gb. When the job he has been contracted to deliver exceeds this at 320Gb, Johnny naturally has his misgivings. To hold something so huge is to guarantee ‘seepage’, where the content leaks into his regular brain, forever crippling his cortex.
|"I’m gonna be dead anyway if I don’t get this shit outta my head!"|
This means Johnny has less than 24 hours to remove the information he is carrying - except there are people who want him dead way before that. Hooking up with an underground resistance, he must survive long enough to extract what turns out to be a world-saving cure for a brain disease infecting around half of the world’s population.
With an author of such science fiction repute as William Gibson, Johnny Mnemonic is a relatively intelligent interpretation of the future and technology racing further ahead of us than we can keep up with. Similar themes are explored in a lot of Gibson’s work and many may recognise his fingerprints in the film Strange Days with Ralph Fiennes late last century. This film was a loose disguise of the novel Neuromancer by Gibson and while a difficult read, produced a technology-comparable storyline where the forces of corporate evil wish the grubby forces of good put down hard. Gibson’s beloved San Francisco is the setting here, with the ruins of the Golden Gate Bridge being a major feature of the film’s heart.
This 1995 film is an interesting document on both how far technology had come up to that point, and how far technology has come at the time of writing (March 2004). Both laughably anachronistic and yet still holding some cool advances and originality, the computer animation is obviously bent with a view of the future appeal of the art but appears limited by the capabilities of the period’s technology. Even so, it is worth the look and I enjoyed the film a lot more today than I did when it briefly hit cinemas in '95. This may be because the dark politics of the story’s setting of 2021 are so much closer to home now, even if the film itself resembles the more budget action films of the ‘90s. The clever originality of the premise does get overshadowed by the action sequences, which is a shame as the story itself is all too possible and even probable in the years to come.
This isn’t among Keanu’s better roles, however, as he still seems to be shaking the Bill and Ted stigma from his range. This comparison again arose during the original release of The Matrix as multitudes of critics saw the chance for a cheap gag at Keanu’s apparently cinematically offensive past. I liked Bill and Ted though, so never associated the two. I believe if someone can advance so well in their acting abilities as to be practically unrecognisable from their earlier roles, then kudos to them. Besides, when you’re starting out you gotta take what you can get and no doubt Keanu still thanks that early budget movie for making him a household name so soon, regardless of people’s impressions of the characters (as to Keanu’s sidekick Alex Winter, well after turning up in The Lost Boys who knows what he’s doing now? Write me at
email@example.com if you’ve seen him anywhere since.)
All that being said, I’ll duck back to my original point, in which I stated Keanu hasn’t given his best performance here. He still does a fairly good job of bringing Johnny’s hitman aloofness and increasing panic to the screen among such a noteable B-grade cast including Dolph Lundgren, Ice-T and Dina Meyer. Henry Rollins even turns up as a nerd, which has gotta be a good thing. A nerd with bigarse tattoos. I’m convinced!
Going with the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround delivery doesn’t always mean all the channels get used. The surrounds do little throughout and the subwoofer only really supports the music and occasional explosions. The sound effects are all fine and although occasionally stock sounding are well synched to the action.
Music has been sculpted here by Brad Fiedel and is a curious futuristic metal and operatic fusion creating a retro environment for the not-so-distant (anymore) storyline. There are heavy ‘80s influences here as well, with a hefty soirée of heavier techno beats and metal bands including Stabbing Westward, The Rollins Band (big shock), Orbital, Helmet and even Bono and The Edge of U2 making a brief appearance. Finally, dialogue is all delivered relatively cleanly with some of Keanu’s lines flattening out a little on delivery, but otherwise all are easy to understand.