Johnny Mnemonic (dir. Robert Longo, 1995) is the type of film that begins with a minute long crawl that includes such inane, exposition spewing text as “The corporations are opposed by the LoTeks, a resistance movement risen from the streets: hackers, data pirates, guerilla-fighters in the Info-Wars” and “They sheath their data in Black Ice, lethal viruses waiting to burn the brains of intruders.” Dolph Lundgren plays a homicidal street preacher that chases the title character and says things like “Jesus time!”. The world is saved partly due to the help of a cybernetically enhanced, psychic dolphin. It would gross about $19 million in America after being produced on a $26 million budget while also gaining wide critical disdain and various “Worst Movie Awards”. Little saw it, and the majority of those that did hated it.
But the film has, somewhat, increased in prominence since its original release. The anti-corporatist ideology (prevalent in response to the Reagan 80s when the original novel was written, but not as relatable in the 90s) has become more common as we move into a second Gilded Age. In the wake of the John Wick films, Johnny Mnemonic lead actor Keanu Reeves’ flat line delivery and gritted emotion has become part of his charm. Most importantly, though, it seems to be that people are gravitating toward the fact that it is odd and different from anything that could be greenlit by production companies in the modern day.
Johnny Mnemonic is imperfect as a piece of filmmaking, but it has a consistent tone that dares to be weird. That’s extremely endearing when most big budget studio films are either created by algorithm or trying to ape the style and tone of a successful franchise, namely Marvel.
The way Marvel does business is really what I think is worth investigating. Marvel has prided itself on producing dozens of films controlled to a quality standard with a similar tone and style and structure. With the massive success of these films, it has forced studios to imitate this way of producing films, giving more creative power to the studio instead of the creators.
This kind of production is what is making even the failures of Hollywood sort of boring. When you give most of the creative freedom to decision makers that are trying to work to accomplish a formula or an imitation, even your failures become rote. Critical and financial failures like Johnny Mnemonic (structurally muddled, but artistically distinct) are now a rare breed. A homogenized landscape of mostly mirthless, inoffensive blockbusters are now the prevalent form of cinematic content and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Johnny Mnemonic is streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime.