Friday, October 23, 2009

Johnny Mnemonic

Here's a question, do people realize what the cheesy parts of the present are? Will there be something about 2009 that people will look back and say "my god, what were we collectively thinking?" Johnny Mnemonic - a film which a guy I knew could never, ever pronounce the name of - has me curious, because this is a very cheesy movie, in an early '90s kind of way.

The story requires an opening text scroll - with lasers! - so you know it's good. In short, it's the future, as indicated by a title card that says INTERNET 2021, and there's a disease called NAS that's making the rounds. The popular rapper apparently gives people spasms, and this is in some way related to Keanu Reeves, who is a courier. Not just a regular courier, he stores sensitive data in his brain, 160GB of it! Unfortunately, he decides to ignore the low disc warnings and shove 320GB in there, and this particular data is of interest to all manner of interests.

One has to mention the cast, since it has possibly the greatest variety of famous people who cannot act I have ever seen. We've got the aforementioned Keanu Reeves, who is quite effective at playing a man who has had people poke around in his brain more than is probably advisable. Direct to video superstars Dolph Lundgren and Udo Keir show up, not especially popular rapper and scowling guy from Law and Order Ice-T plays a scowling guy with bad makeup. Musician and talk show host Henry Rollins proves that being either a musician or talk show host does not prepare you in any way for playing an angry doctor. There's also Dina Meyer as the obligatory love interest, but I have never heard of her.

In fact, there's precisely one actor in the lot who turns in the decent performance, and I believe I've mentioned him before (and will again very soon, if the DVD sitting on my desk is any indication). I'm talking about Takeshi Kitano, acclaimed film director and fascinating film presence, in a movie that's probably beneath him, but what can you do. The lucky Japanese got a version were his role was significantly expanded, but even here he's got the most character, the best delivery, and some great silly moments that I can't help but think he created all on his lonesome. Using his hand in a quacking duck pose is classic Kitano, for example.

Apart from everyone's favorite Japanese superstar, this is pretty much early 90s b-movie. Everything is lit with the most neon possible, the world's supply of smoke machines has been commandeered in order to make the futuristic city of Newark, New Jersey seem as futuristic as possible. Apparently in the future everything's on fire, and fire itself has turned hot pink and neon green. The general aesthetic of crap glued to other crap that was prevalent in the early 90s has been deployed in full force, and everyone looks like a drag queen except for Keanu Reeves, who has one of those really thin ties, and Kitano, who remains the only person who doesn't embarrass himself during the proceedings. The internet is accessed through the power of mime and looks like the worst CG in the world. The climactic sequence in particular looks like it belongs on the 3D0, not at the end of a major motion picture.

Inexplicably, however, it predicts the general function of the Nintendo Wii (albeit used for a phone). Huh.

I enjoyed this because I grew up in the 90s, but I'm not going to call it a great movie. The story is decent enough, but the performances are so bad and everything else so cheesy it gets in the way. The director - Robert Longo, who proceeded to never direct anything else again - is of the 'tilting the camera makes everything more exciting!' school of film making, and the 90s-ness of it oozes from every frame. If you're feeling a tinge of nostalgia for the early 90s, you could do worse, and it might prevent you from pulling out your favorite skinny tie, 3D0 and Ice-T records. Anything that keeps those Ice-T records stashed away counts as a good thing.

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