Johnny Mnemonic (1995), a recap (part 3 of 3)

Last time: Johnny picked up a bodyguard and a doctor, and while Pharmakom has hired a psycho hitman to collect his head, our hero has discovered the data in his skull could save millions of lives… if somebody can get it out of his skull intact.

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Johnny is frustrated with Spider’s medical diagnosis, which boils down to him not being able to extract the data and the only solution is emergency surgery that will result in a majorly unsatisfactory quality of life for Johnny, if he survives it. Spider tries to appeal to Johnny’s sense of right and wrong, but the courier’s pretty much out for numero uno. As he attempts to leave the underground NAS infirmary, a body on a gurney gets wheeled in with what looks like a cross sticking out of its chest. And whose cross is it? Why, it’s the Preacher man!

“Heeeeeere’s Preachy!”

Preacher grabs Johnny with his shepherd’s crook but Jane is on the case. She whips a long nail at Preacher, but his reflexes are as jacked as his muscles and he catches it. Sadly, with both hands full, he can’t block her follow-up throw. Spider bravely jumps Preacher, allowing the Jays to get away, with Spider crying out to Jane to take Johnny to someone named “Jones”. Preacher gets his second wind and easily handles Spider, and then the assassin gets all biblical and uses scalpels to crucify him to find out who “Jones” is. Well, one can’t accuse Preacher of not sticking to his theme.

Meanwhile, Johnny’s on the road in Spider’s beat-up bus/van, and he calls the Pharmakom suit from before. He sets up a meeting on the old bridge where J-Bone rules. Is J-Bone the same as Jones? Maybe in an earlier life he was Georges Jones, accountant, before he had a wacky mid-life crisis. Jane suggests that J-Bone’s not going to be happy, but Johnny doesn’t care. However, unknown to Johnny, the suit he’s been speaking with is a computer-generated image controlled by the local Pharmakom head, Takahashi. He shuts off the image, and the AI from before calls in and tries to warn him about something. But Takahashi’s not interested and shuts down the computer/phone.

Back at the bridge, Jane parks Spider’s ride and Johnny calls up to the bridge, but the two guards are too absorbed in matters of great import to, you know, do their job. Below, Johnny starts having second thoughts; he’s selfish but he’s not a total bastard, and it’s hard to look at an NAS victim like Jane and not think about the implications of what’s in his head. He asks who “Jones” is and Jane’s all evasive, saying he was in the Navy and “the war”.

Finally, the guards upstairs notice and one decides to have some fun by dropping a flaming car wreck on Spider’s van. Johnny and Jane barely avoid getting squished and scorched, and now Johnny’s had it. He lays down a rant about how he’s supposed to be in the city, where he can get room service, a cold Mexican beer, and a ten thousand dollar hooker. As rants go, I’d give it a three out of five smoking Dennis Learys. Perhaps J-Bone heard the rant—or wants to see why those two jackasses dropped a car—because he comes down on a lift.

Jane explains that they need to see Jones, and that Spider sent them. When J-Bone asks where Spider is, Jane says he’s dead, and in a nice touch, J-Bone whips his head around to look at the wrecked van, but Jane reassures the man that the doc’s not in there. She explains that Spider wanted Johnny to meet Jones, and with some reluctance J-Bone takes the pair up on the lift. It’s then that Johnny suffers another seizure, and J-Bone and Jane have to hold onto him on the ride up. Some of J-Bone’s people take Johnny off their hands, carrying him across a catwalk, and in a nice piece of continuity (something I always appreciate, because it shows your production team actually gives a damn), we see the flaming wreckage of the dropped car below.

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The group passes through the bridge world of the LoTeks, which consists of men and women apparently performing constant maintenance or modifications on the structure, employing arc welders and the like as some fly across on zip-lines.

A senseless Johnny is carried past as LoTeks watch with apparent indifference. Meanwhile, the Pharmakom exec arms himself, because he has a helicopter prepped to take him to the bridge, while Laserthumb gets called to meet him there. We check back in with Johnny, who experiences flashes of memory of his life when he was a child. Jane checks in on him to make sure he’s all right, and then the two…

…Sigh. This is all the same night, right? They’ve known each other may four hours, tops, and they’re falling in love or something? I don’t mind the pair becoming friends as Johnny begins to grow a conscience and Jane realizes this is far more than just a bodyguarding job, but this really does stretch the imagination. I don’t think anyone would have been upset had their relationship remained wholly platonic. J-Bone breaks up the little love-fest before things get heated, because it’s time to meet Jones.

He leads the pair through the guts of the complex, explaining how the place is built from junk hauled up from below, and full of people like Spider who work to help each other out. Their main purpose is to take data that can mess up the System and help the little guy and “wide band” it, meaning they bounce it off of satellites with the aid of Jones, a code-breaker who can master any encryption. And who is Jones?

No lie, that one caught me off guard. Johnny calls the dolphin a “fish”, and with modern education the way it is, it wouldn’t surprise me if he honestly got that one wrong and wasn’t just being a prick. Jones zaps him with microwaves in response, and J-Bone has to talk the aquatic mammal down. Johnny is still skeptical, but J-Bone explains the dolphin was trained to hack enemy submarines with “infra-sound” and he’ll get the job done.

Meanwhile down below, Laserthumb and his posse show up in a fleet of limousines. He scopes out the bridge with some high-tech binoculars, and then he and his crew suit up for war.

Upstairs, a chair is lowered, complete with a massive helmet sprouting tons of wires. J-Bone explains the plan, which is for Jones to feed Johnny code. Johnny looks at the rig skeptically and asks if J-Bone’s ever done this before, and the look on the man’s face says it all. Full credit to Keanu here, as he looks around with this awesomely incredulous expression. He’s about to back out when J-Bone points out this is his only chance. J-Bone’s final advice? Don’t move around too much, or else his frontal lobe will get microwaved. Again, Keanu’s expressions are gold. I’m not being sarcastic here; he looks like a guy who simply cannot believe the epic loads of crap he’s had to wade through.

He hands over the one image of the download code to J-Bone, while down below the Yakuza gets ready to storm the bridge, and damn, that car’s still on fire! That’s genuinely a nice touch, because it implies not a lot of time has passed, which is smart because this is all supposed to be taking place in one evening. Laserthumb and six Yakuza shoot spikes into the belly of the bridge and ascend with portable winches, while a pair of goons are left behind.

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Up above, Johnny is strapped in and I truly love the helmet. It looks rugged and old, and like it must be chock full of gear ready to let his mind soar… or fry it. J-Bone scans the first image, and Jones begins to hack and Johnny lets out a yell as it begins. As this happens, the Pharmakom helicopter arrives, hovering over the bridge as Laserthumb decapitates one of the guards we saw earlier and handily whips a knife at the other. I’m honestly glad they didn’t go with a throwing star. The man collapses on the control lever and drops another flaming car onto one of the Yakuza below. The other cries out and whips out her rocket launcher and fires it up at the bridge, just as Jones goes data diving.

I like the whole segmented brain effect they went with here. While the CGI looks a little dodgy on the face of it, I don’t mind at all, because it’s the internet or mental interfacing; it should look surrealistic. This is one of those times dated CGI doesn’t hurt the movie. A second rocket explodes, knocking Johnny out of his chair and shutting down the satellite feed. Now the only way to get what they need is for Johnny to “hack his own brain and then loop it through Jones”. I have no idea what that all means, but J-Bone says it with such certainty that I’m thinking, what the hell, I’ve handled seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble; this almost sounds plausible.

J-Bone rushes out with his guys to take on the Yakuza, and all are armed with crossbows, which does make sense if bullets are hard to come by. J-Bone shoots the woman with the rocket launcher on the ground right in the mouth, while the rest of the LowTeks engage the Yakuza, leaving the Jays along with… well… another Jay. Damn, I think the writers really liked giving characters names with the same first letter. Who wrote this thing, anyway? Wait, William Gibson? Uh, wow. Okay, moving on.

Soon the Pharmakom exec shows up and whips out his honkin’ big gun. He fires at Jane, driving her away, and them aims at Johnny, who points out the dude can’t shoot him. The Pharmakom exec’s response is to pull out a Japanese short sword, also known as a wakizashi. But before he can get to lopping off heads…

It’s AI Lady! She calls down to Takahashi, telling him that Johnny has the cure for NAS in his head. It turns out Takahashi’s daughter died of NAS, but the company had the cure eight months ago and could have treated her. The suits have been sitting on the cure because it’s more profitable to treat the disease than to cure it. Takahashi slices through a power line, cutting off the AI, but rather than kill Johnny, he appears undecided. That’s when Laserthumb—whose name is apparently Shinji—puts a half-dozen bullets in the exec’s back.

The remaining Yakuza show up with Jane as their hostage. Laserthumb pulls out his laser garrote and tells Johnny to lift his chin to make it a clean cut, but Jane gets loose from her captors, creating a distraction for Johnny to get away. Laserthumb goes after Johnny while Jane holds her own, and eventually our hero is cornered on a wooden catwalk, with the river far below. Laserthumb cuts a support for some reason, and the pair go tumbling down into a storage container that bursts open. The pair dangle on some cargo netting and Johnny notes the dude’s ornate thumb. Johnny grabs the thumb, pulling out the laserwire, and decapitates its owner. His head and body go falling to the river below.

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Meanwhile back with Jane, she runs into an old friend.

Damn, I almost forgot Preacher was around. I’m assuming he climbed up here with his insane strength. The strength that in no way helped him fight off Jane and two nerds earlier. Elsewhere, there are more explosions, and the last of the Yakuza are finally taken down. Johnny gets back up onto the bridge and runs into Takahashi, who somehow survived those six shots. You’d think bullets would be more lethal in the future or something, but apparently not. Smiling, he hands Johnny the last two password images and then dies. Only, it seems the second image is incomplete.

Preacher impales Jane’s hand to a wall with one of her knives… oh, my bad. They’re more like super-long nails. But before Preacher can nail the other hand, Johnny dives in, only to get smacked hard for his trouble. As Preacher prepares to decapitate Johnny, Jane frees herself and directs Jones’ microwave dish at Preacher, heating up his metal bits. Johnny grabs a live cable and hands it to Preacher, who literally gets cooked by the voltage.

J-Bone shows up and it’s time to try again, so they crank up whatever power is left and the AI reappears, explaining that the corporation is burning her away, memory by memory, but the dolphin can take Johnny into the data to find the third image. She dies… a second time. As Johnny logs in, J-Bone sends out a worldwide transmission telling anyone who’s listening that they’ve got the cure and to set their (snort!) VCRs for this. Johnny jumps into the Pharmakom software inside his own skull and does battle with antivirus software.

And damn, I think Johnny’s avatar looks kind of cool. He wins and is able to upload the third image, which is a picture of the AI. The data is freed and explodes into the interwebs! Johnny’s childhood memories are unlocked, and the Pharmakom tower catches fire for… reasons? Meanwhile, Preacher’s scorched hand begins to move, and his head rises. Jane and Johnny turn, and J-Bone tells his people to get that garbage out of here.

Okay, you had me there, movie. Nice. Johnny and Jane smile at each other, fade to black.

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So truth be told, Johnny Mnemonic isn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it being. I don’t know if I was just a jaded little shit back then or what, but this time out I actually had a good time. These days, action movies are full of bloated self-importance with ridiculously long run times, but at 90 minutes, Johnny Mnemonic delivers with nary a wasted moment. Yes, okay, they get almost everything about 2021 wrong. But you tell me what Blade Runner got right about 2019. Sure, we can debate how accurately the cyberpunk genre predicted the current influence of corporations, but I do think that there’s a subtle nod to the growing power of China, seeing as how this film opens up in Beijing and hints at that nation’s ascendency in the global market. Keanu seems to get better as the movie progresses, or maybe that’s just his cool façade eroding as things get steadily worse. I like the internet visuals, and if you remade the movie today, I would say largely leave them alone. Dina Meyer is credible, especially since this is her first feature film. And Ice-T… well, his performance is lukewarm. To his credit, by the time he became a regular on Law & Order: SVU five years later, his acting chops had grown in leaps and bounds. Dolph? Eh, he was alright. He does “crazy” pretty good; I’ll give him that.

Other than music videos, this was director Robert Longo’s only movie, which is a shame, because I think he did a decent job. As for William Gibson, although he has writing credits on this movie, he insists what was shot isn’t his screenplay, and I wonder what elements were changed that made him ultimately disown the film. The Japanese release had roughly ten more minutes of footage, mostly involving Takahashi, so maybe he felt one of the film’s antagonists needed more fleshing out. Honestly, it’s a valid point, seeing as Takahashi and his relationship with the man I prefer to call Laserthumb is not much touched upon. Regardless, this film sadly is no longer available to view on Amazon unless you rent it. I hope you enjoyed the recap, and see you next time.

Multi-Part Article: Johnny Mnemonic (1995), a recap

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