Mar 15, 2021
Johnny Mnemonic (1995), a recap (part 2 of 3)
Last time: In the far flung year of… 2021, a guy named Johnny is a special courier who smuggles data via an implant in his head. Now he’s got too much data stuffed in his noggin and has to get it out before his brain melts. The problem is, he’s been shafted by his handler and knocked out, and it looks like he’s got no one to turn to.
Out in the bar, Dina Meyer—her character’s name is “Jane”, by the way, and damn, is that a boring or what? Henry Rollins gets “Spider”, Ice-T is “J-Bone”, and she’s… Jane? No catchy street name to show how badass she is?—is hanging out at the bar while someone on stage is singing faux opera. I give the producers credit for trying to predict music trends in the future, even if they got it completely wrong. I mean, who could have predicted Justin Bieber? She spots Ralfi’s bodyguards carrying a body out of the bathroom and quickly asks the bartender, Hooky (see? Even the bartender has a street name) to give her her “shit”, which looks like large steel rings. And it’s a nice touch that the bartender has a bionic hand, but I guess he couldn’t afford to get one that looks like a real limb. Unless in the future, it’s all about the cyberpunk aesthetic where you only look cool if your artificial bits look, you know, artificial. Jane sneaks into a bathroom where she finds one of those classic film clichés: a ventilation duct large enough to crawl through. In fact, it’s so big she just has to bend over a bit to negotiate it. She sneaks through it to the point where she starts to hear voices.
Meanwhile, Johnny wakes up…
…and probably wishes he could go back to sleep. He wonders what was put in his head, but Ralfi’s not forthcoming. He does explain that once the Yakuza show up, you really can’t say “no”. It seems Laserthumb is also a surgeon, and is about ready to do what the bald guy earlier didn’t get a chance to do, and that’s literally cut off Johnny’s head and mail it in a stainless steel tub back home. Then again, do you really need to be a doctor to decapitate somebody? Johnny attempts to cut a deal; he’s got one image/password, they’ve got the other two, and he’s more than happy to submit to a download. Unfortunately, with all that leakage, it’s possible somebody later might literally pick Johnny’s brains for data, and as Doctor Laserthumb explains, “These days, dead men can tell tales.”
It’s then that Jane comes popping down into the makeshift operating theater, hitting Laserthumb in the face with the grate and knocking him senseless. She deploys her weapon, which is one of the rings, which is more like a steel whip that becomes rigid with a wicked blade at the end. That’s actually pretty wizard. Ralfi offers Jane a night’s wages just to “fuck off”, but Johnny offers her fifty thousand and she rescues him by cutting him loose and slashing the crap out of Ralfi’s bodyguards. Johnny gets a gun and they split, locking the door behind them. Doctor Laserthumb is not pleased and takes it out on Ralfi, cutting him up.
Jane leads Johnny out back to some trash where she left her “gear”, and right away, Laserthumb and the one bodyguard that still has all her fingers come after them. The pair are chased into a shantytown and the bad guys follow, but this turns out to not be such a good idea, because Jane knows a guy—
—and this is his hood.
With J-Bone running interference, the “Jays” flee the scene, disappearing into the sewer. Down below, Jane tells Johnny she’s not going anywhere until she gets paid, and she gets a quick lowdown on what’s going on. But then Johnny suffers a seizure as more data leakage seeps into the spongy gray matter. Mercifully, he passes out.
Meanwhile at Pharmakom, the local manager is getting dressed and we see his back has been decorated with the traditional Yakuza tattoos. On the computer screen are videos of a little girl, presumably his daughter. A woman cuts into the feed, and it seems to be an AI. I was about to say this is pretty groundbreaking, predating Mass Effect and the Resident Evil movies, but hell, haven’t we seen AIs since the original Star Trek? Kirk certainly talked enough of them to death. The AI warns the dude that Laserthumb is going to be coming for his head sooner or later, but more likely sooner.
Back with Johnny, he awakens to weird flashbacks of an idyllic home. He’s upset that Jane let him sleep, but she said he needed it. As they head out again, he confesses he had his entire childhood wiped out to make room for his implant. Uh, so doctors can figure out where your memories are specifically stored now? And it’s all set up in your brain like a well-ordered file cabinet? Johnny’s tired of the Q&A and demands a computer, because he needs to find somebody to fix this. Jane leads him to an electronics store and Johnny easily bypasses the security on the back door. Inside, he has Jane grab gear off the shelves until he finds… this:
I mean, it doesn’t look too goofy, but I guess it looks kind of, well, cheap. Johnny checks the Beijing hotel’s database to find out where the fax went, and it went to a copy shop in Newark called… Newark Copyshop. So they couldn’t get Kinkos to sign off on using their name? Meanwhile, Pharmakorp has a hacker on the payroll using a similar rig, and he’s looking for the courier. Johnny finds the fax log and the name of the person it was supposed to go to: Dr. Allcome. But the fax never went through. I’m watching all this and it’s weird how they thought virtual reality and online computing would look. and yet no one could predict the speed, clarity, and efficiency of scanning and e-mailing documents. The writers seemed to think faxing would become super high-tech, but trust me when I say the local Kinkos FedEx office is using fax machines that look twenty years old. Johnny makes a call to a guy, but the Yakuza hacker has him pinned down to “Crazy Bob’s” computer shop. Crazy Bob? No wonder Johnny’s rig looks like crap. Johnny calls up a guy named “Strike” on his board, but Strike wants nothing to do with him, saying he doesn’t owe Johnny enough to justify the risk. Johnny responds by threatening to wreck Strike’s board.
I like how Johnny’s virtual reality fingers turn to claws when he makes the threat. They never explain what the “board” is, but I assume it’s illicit, dark web-type stuff. And I like how they don’t spend five minutes explaining who/what Strike is, other than he’s into illegal stuff and he owes Johnny a favor; hey, not everybody needs a backstory. Strike gives up the fact that the data in Johnny’s head belongs to Pharmakom and they hired the Yakuza to get it, but before he can say more, a virus terminates the connection. Then someone else cuts in: it’s the AI who was speaking to the Pharmakom exec earlier.
She warns Johnny that trouble is on the way, and Jane (and okay, just an aside here: that name is distractingly bad. I think they really missed an opportunity here, like explaining how street names are earned or assigned. Heck, her name could even mean Just A Newbie, Expendable, something Ralfi calls her as a joke that she wears with pride or something. In Gibson’s short story, the street fighter is named Molly, which sounds a hell of a lot cooler. Okay, rant over) has scoped out the alley and spotted a squad of limos rolling on in. As Johnny swipes more tech-swag on the way out, Jane pulls out her pretty pink hand grenade and tosses it to the Yakuzas just coming in through the rear. They get blowed up really good and Laserthumb has to call in to report the bad news.
Back at Pharmakom, the exec realizes that perhaps his chief rival isn’t up to the task, so he puts in a call to this guy.
Yes, it’s Dolph Lundren, doing his best Rasputin the Mad Monk impersonation. Fortunately, Dolph doesn’t try to put on a Russian accent, although between Rocky IV and Red Scorpion, he’s had lots of practice. The exec tells American Rasputin that he wants Johnny’s head, literally, and he’ll pay triple for it if he gets it in the next 24 hours.
Back with the Jays, Johnny finds Jane’s phone card and pulls out the tech he snatched from Bob’s, which is a portal phone like the ones telephone repairmen use to hook into lines. He heads to a phone booth—hey, remember phone booths?—and uses the unit to hack into Pharmakom and call a suit. He then arranges a meet-up to get the data out of his head. Jane thinks he’s crazy, but it actually make sense; Johnny’s on the clock and knows it, and with diminishing options, he’s got no choice. Jane argues with Johnny, but then she gets the shakes. Johnny panics and thinks Jane’s got NAS, but she denies it. He’s about to leave her twitching where she lays, but Jane says her friend Spider might be able to help them both.
A blue cab ride later (are the blue cabs a clue that we’re viewing some sort of alternate universe, one where smart phones didn’t get invented? Hmmm…), Johnny gets Jane to Spider’s place, where he pumps her spine with muscle relaxant.
Spider explains she indeed does have NAS, and a lot of people do. He also explains that it’s technology that gives it to everyone, but nobody can live without technology, so they’re kinda screwed. In case you’re too young to remember, there was a scare during the 1990s that above-ground power lines could give you cancer, and I think that’s where this plot point stems from. Heck, even today some people still think cell phones can cause brain cancer.
Spider rants with an intensity that you can feel in your toes, which only Denis Leary on a pack of cigarettes could hope to match. As Spider tries to stabilize Jane, we cut to elsewhere in Newark as the LoTeks spot Dolph Lundgren’s character, named Preacher, who’s on the prowl. Damn, the dude even comes with his own shepherd’s crook.
Now that’s dedication to a theme. I like how the LoTek’s ironically high-tech goggles give them an analysis of Preacher’s body, like a Dragonball-Z Saiyan’s eyepiece. The pair report to J-Bone, who notes that Preacher is totally nuts and takes on jobs just to maintain his inhuman body. That kind of reminds me of Katie Sackoff’s character in the short lived Bionic Woman reboot, who was obsessed with replacing her organic body parts with “new and improved” bits. J-Bone tells his people to steer clear of him.
Meanwhile, the Pharmakom exec wants a background check on his mysterious AI visitor, and it turns out she looks just like company founder Anna Kalmann, who’s been dead since 2015. At least, her body died; her mind was imprinted on Pharmakom’s computers and she has Swiss citizenship under their “artificial intelligence laws of 2006”. So when we win the war against Skynet, we now know where it’ll flee to.
Back at Spider’s, Johnny uses the man’s computer to log into Pharmakom and the AI pops up almost instantly, but our ultra-intense host gets pissed off because Johnny’s touching his stuff. What follows is an awesome exchange where Henry Rollins is as aggressive as all get-out, in stark contrast to how he was with Jane in the bar. Johnny asks Spider, “How are you on brain implants? Silicone implants, neural overlays, memory augmentation?” Spider says they don’t see much of those in Newark. Johnny then starts to explain his problem, and the director wisely cuts to another scene because we don’t need to hear that story a third time.
We find Preacher in Ralfi’s bar, having a talk with Hooky…
…if by “talk” we mean, freezing his prosthetic hand in the head bucket and shattering it. Naturally, Hooky’s more than happy to aid Preacher in his inquiries regarding Jane, Johnny, and Spider, telling all he knows.
Back at Spider’s, his widgets are stabilizing Jane while he gives Johnny a sci-fi MRI.
Jane wakes up, and the three have a talk about what to do next. Spider says he might be able to download the data, even if he can’t guarantee its integrity, but Johnny just wants it out. Johnny asks if Spider has heard of a Doctor Allcom, and at Jane’s insistence, Spider agrees to take them to the guy. As they drive there, Preacher leaps out in front of their van and gets splatted for his efforts. But Preacher is strong like bull, and gets back up as the gang rides off.
Later, Spider takes the pair to an underground clinic where NAS sufferers are treated off the books. Here, Spider dons a white lab coat and his demeanor changes to more of a medical professional, and I dig how you realize this is the real himL the guy he reveals to people like Jane, while the tough guy he shoves in Johnny’s face is his street persona. Spider explains the data was meant for them, and that “Doctor Allcome” is a hospital term used when you have a major emergency on hand. He checks out Johnny with better diagnostic equipment, and says their only option is to use “a general anesthetic, cranial drill, and a pair of forceps”. Of course, there might be some slight side effects, like loss of fine motor skills, and Johnny won’t be able to remember anything for more than three minutes at a time, but at least he’ll still be alive… sort of. Johnny says screw that and starts to leave, but then Spider drops a bombshell: the data in Johnny’s head is the cure for NAS.
Next week: Preacher attacks, it’s Yakuza vs. LoTeks, and our thrilling conclusion!