In Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves wears a clean-cut science-fiction hairdo (sculpted part, shorn sideburns) that brings out the finely chiseled blankness of his features. He looks like a futuristic G.I. Joe, and damned if he doesn’t have all the personality of G.I. Joe. Reeves plays a ”mnemonic courier,” a freelance human data carrier who has had a computer chip implanted in his brain. Early on, he receives a massive injection of information, more than twice the amount he’s equipped to carry; he spends the rest of the film skulking around with his lobes jammed to capacity, all the while evading the Japanese mobsters who quite literally want his head. The very notion of Keanu Reeves suffering from cerebral overload sounds like some sort of bad joke (though one the film itself doesn’t appear to be in on). Offhand, I can’t think of an actor who could use a brain implant more. The trouble isn’t that Reeves talks like a surfer dude; it’s that he tries so hard not to talk like a surfer dude. He lowers his voice by an octave for that requisite macho effect, and he delivers almost every line with an intense, misplaced urgency, as if he were a grade-school kid imitating his favorite TV cop. Johnny Mnemonic, a slack and derivative future-shock thriller (it’s basically Blade Runner with tackier sets), offers the embarrassing spectacle of Keanu Reeves working overtime to convince you that he has too much on his mind. He doesn’t, and neither does the movie.

The depressing thing about these Blade Runner knockoffs is that for every nifty visual detail there are a dozen more — back-alley shoot-outs, Ice-T’s Rasta braid — lifted from the same old B movies we’ve been watching for years. Johnny Mnemonic is based on a story by William Gibson, the philosopher guru of the wired generation, and it was directed by the artist Robert Longo, who seems to have taken a perverse pride in reinventing himself as a major-scale Hollywood hack. Most of the film is set in Newark, N.J., and the big news about Newark in the 21st century is that it looks like…Newark. I did, however, like a few of the gimmicks, such as the whip of light that slices right through flesh. And Dolph Lundgren makes a vivid impression as a murderous Jesus freak. It’s the wittiest touch in the film that Rocky IV‘s bristle-cut hulk has returned to the screen looking like the psychopathic son of Charlton Heston’s Moses. C-

Johnny Mnemonic
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