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In 2021, the world is connected to the internet almost constantly, and it has created a new disease called Nerve Attenuation Syndrome (NAS) which affects about half of the world’s population. Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is a data courier, tasked with carrying some very important information that could change the world, and lead to a cure for NAS. He’s being hunted by the Yakuza, who are working for Pharmakom Industries and are desperate to keep the cure to themselves. Along the way, Johnny meets up with Jane (Dina Meyer), an augmented wannabe bodyguard, and J-Bone (Ice-T), who leads an underground resistance that hopes to release the cure to the public. Although critical reception was mainly negative, the film managed to make more than its money back through the worldwide market. It’s gained a good following over the years, and is just one of the many outrageous technology-based films of the ’90s.

Toronto Film Scene writers Birithivy Yogaratnam and William Brownridge look at Johnny Mnemonic and discuss whether the film is Essential Canadian Cinema.

William: I have to start by saying that I had no idea this was a Canadian film in any way. I’m not usually good at spotting Canadian landmarks, unless the filmmakers stick the CN Tower directly in front of me. I know that a lot of Montreal skyline and landmarks are used, but since I’ve never been there, most of that is lost on me.

Birithivy: I also didn’t know this was a Canadian film. Some of the scenes I recognized were probably shot on Harborfront, as that highway looks extremely similar to the DVP. I was also able to spot some of the downtown buildings during the initial Newark scenes. This movie also has a really weird vibe.

Things get really ridiculous when Johnny enters the internet towards the end of "Johnny Mnemonic"

Things get really ridiculous when Johnny enters the internet towards the end of “Johnny Mnemonic”

William: That weird vibe probably has to do with the 90s sci-fi element, where the internet was taking over and everybody had their crazy ideas of where it was going. Unfortunately, that also instantly dates films like this. When they’re surfing through the internet, or the fact that everybody in the future just straps on some gloves and a helmet and enters virtual reality. I guess that may not be so far-fetched now, as the Oculus Rift is quickly becoming a popular tool.

There’s also an incredibly stilted feeling to the dialogue as well. Keanu Reeves isn’t exactly known for his beautiful delivery, but this was rather early in his career, so much of what he says still has that feeling of Bill and Ted to it. Closer to the end of the film, where he’s finally had enough of the horrible things that have been happening to him, his performance takes on a great comedic quality and is much more entertaining to watch. There isn’t really a lot of strong performances in this one, but there’s a certain quirky charm to the entire film. Plus, there’s nothing more entertaining than Dolph Lundgren as the cybernetic Street Preacher.

The performances tend to drag, but there's still an entertaining quality to "Johnny Mnemonic"

The performances tend to drag, but there’s still an entertaining quality to “Johnny Mnemonic”

Birithivy: It’s quite hilarious how they depicted the future, but I have to agree that they probably have the Oculus Rift thing right. This movie is just pure gold for Keanu Reevesims though. The guy is just so bland on-screen, though he does kick some ass in the action scenes. Is it bad that I laughed during the scenes where he freaks out? Kind of interesting how he did this movie right after Speed. I guess this movie’s script looked great, but couldn’t be translated well to screen. And Dolph Lundgren as the holy preacher is just too hilarious to comprehend. It’s like he and Keanu were having a battle of emotionless in their respective scenes. Also, Ice-T is more of a caricature in this movie. The villains as well.

William: Any time Ice-T shows up in a movie, I think you know exactly what’s going to happen.

The depiction of the future seems kind of typical of the internet age. It’s always some crazy looking virtual world that looks incredibly hard to navigate. Can you imagine having to find cat videos in the mess that Keanu Reeves is diving into? The effects are very typical as well, and seeing something like this always reminds me of The Lawnmower Man, which has a couple of years on Johnny Mnemonic.

Even with the bland acting, and silly scripting, I can see where this film would build a growing audience. It has a taste of the great 80s films that I grew up on, with enough of the 90s technology smashed into it to create a film that isn’t really good, but is still very fun to watch.

Birithivy: For sure! The movie is good cheesy, and it’s also just plain fun. This movie has cult status written all over it. “I WANT ROOM SERVICE!” That line alone should make anyone watch this movie. Keanu pulled a Nicholas Cage moment right there.

Is Johnny Mnemonic Essential Canadian Cinema?

William: So, even though we seem to agree that Johnny Mnemonic is at least a fun film to watch, is it actually Essential Canadian Cinema? Personally, the only thing that seems to be Canadian here is that it was shot in Canada. None of the leads are Canadian. The director and writer aren’t Canadian, and the film is definitely not set in Canada. I think calling a film Essential Canadian Cinema simply because it was shot here takes away from what an actual essential Canadian film should be. Our cinema needs to be proud that it’s Canadian. For that reason, I’m saying that Johnny Mnemonic is not Essential Canadian Cinema. It is still a good time though.

Birithivy: Other than the fact that the movie was shot in Canada, there isn’t an ounce of Canadian found in the film. In my opinion, Johnny Mnemonic would not be what I would consider Essential Canadian Cinema. There are tons of other Canadian films that are more essential than this movie. But Johnny Mnemonic is still a decent watch though, a movie that would be great to watch on a slow day if you’ve got nothing else to do. But definitely not essential to Canadian cinema!

The Final Verdict

Johnny Mnemonic may be an entertaining film to watch, mainly because of what it does wrong and not what it does right, there’s no chance that this film is Essential Canadian Cinema.