One of the problems facing the original theatrical version of “Johnny Mnemonic” lies in its manipulation by multiple forces behind the scenes. As Longo puts it, the film “has gone out of control. Keanu just exploded with ‘Speed.’ Tristar wants it to be their summer movie. Kinda crazy.” The shift from understated winter releases to big summer films led to the studio putting undue pressure on the first-time film director that included everything from threatening to fire him during production to changing editors on him during posting.
While this film is undeniably not action-packed enough to qualify as a summer blockbuster, it has plenty of interesting concepts and themes, some of which were ahead of their time. Of course, the film’s attention to big corporations controlling potentially life-saving information and the internet as a place where things (and people!) can exist as in separate realities are elements we take for granted in 2022.
The black-and-white release makes the film’s rough edges seem more intentional than campy blunders, and Reeves’ performance as a politically pampered man increasingly and dispirited from his depth plays a sizable actor’s strength. For Longo, the black-and-white version is “much closer to what I imagined,” and the reception seems warmer than it has been for the past 27 years:
“It’s great that people are starting to see the movie that’s in that movie. […] It took a pandemic to change people’s minds. Need a crazy president. It’s all sorts of things.”
The true test of any worthy sci-fi is that it both speaks of the time in which it was made and also carries a unique resonance, in that its future never resembles the present. “Johnny Mnemonic” does both. It also features Henry Rollins fighting Dolph Lundgren as a murder fanatic. If you haven’t already, take another look at “Johnny”.