Johnny ‘Moronic’ is more like it.
(Sorry, just had to get that out of the way.)
OK, so I’ve been lazing off lately, really since scrapping my finished rough of The Klansman. There was even an extra week in there where Paul couldn’t get an article up, so I easily could have had one ready by now. Instead, I let him put up Doomsday Machine, my last ready-to-go article. Then, instead of starting another piece of my own, I instead finally got around to getting Jason’s long awaited Highlander II piece in postable shape. By the time you read this, that article will have been put up, to rave review and all around acclamation.
Douglas, meanwhile, has written a note indicating that he’s torn between more than half a dozen possible subjects for his next article. I’m in a similar boat. Having finally (if half-heartedly) decided that I should do a piece, I look at my Tape Selection stack. This is now getting rather huge. I’ve been buying movies like crazy the last three months, having discovered the Ebay auction website. I now have enough article fodder on hand to last me for years to come.
Ironically, though, I felt apathetic about picking one out. There were just so many possibilities, and nothing leapt out at me. Chances were that I was either going to go with From Hell It Came, one of those ludicrous, no-brainer ’50s Sci-Fi deals. Or, I could just laze for yet another week, only doing the scut work on Jason’s Bad Girls review and putting that up next. The problem there was that that would exhaust our current, combined article stockpile.
Then, inspiration struck, as it so often does, from our friend Mr. Television. A commercial came on for the soon to be released film The Matrix. Some films get your blood flowing purely with the anticipation of a fully realized world that we haven’t seen before. Dark City was probably the most recent example. Blade Runner is the classic example. If the film’s world lives and breathes enough, plot flaws and such are put to the side. Critical faculties are put aside, and we luxuriate in the pure beauty of it all.
And Matrix, I must admit, looks pretty damn cool. This despite one very big reason to doubt its quality: It’s a Cyberpunk Science Fiction Movie starring Keanu Reeves. And if History is to be any guide, that’s very bad news. For if the hoary stench of Jabootu has emanated from any single sci-fi movie of the ’90s, it’s Reeve’s Johnny Mnemonic. Ah, Johnny Mnemonic!
Inspired at last, I bypassed my huge new stacks of movies. Instead, I ran to the old stack of films I’ve had for a while, so woefully neglected in the rush of newly obtained tapes. There I extricated my ever patient copy of this seminal gem, one I’d bought well over a year ago. Your time has come, baby. It’s your time to go to The Show.
Which means that, should I want this film up for the premiere of The Matrix (and, oh, I do, my brothers), I have roughly seven days to finish it off. It’s now Saturday, the night of March 20th. The Matrix opens on Wednesday, March 31st. That’s in 11 days.
Of course, I need to hand it in to Paul early enough to give him time to find an open spot when he can get it up. Therefore, I’d best have it ready to hand over next Saturday afternoon. That gives me less than seven days, which actually is a fairly tight deadline. That’s OK. That’ll add an enjoyable urgency to the whole thing.
I realize that all this will be dated by Thursday morning, April 1st, 1999. Well, too bad.
Keanu Reeves is an odd duck. He’s proven himself adept at playing a certain type of out-of-it teenager. This he demonstrated with clever and affectionate performances, not only in the two Bill & Ted movies, but in Ron Howard’s Parenthood as well. He also played a more much unsavory variation on the type in River’s Edge, wherein his character was anything but the cheerful Ted “Theodore” Logan. However, Reeves apparently felt stifled by these roles, presumably fearing that people would mistake the actor for the characters.
So he appeared in Dangerous Liaisons. Surprisingly, he was quite good in it, too. Somehow, he managed not to get blown off the screen by the likes of John Malkovich, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer. This role gained him the critical acclaim he sought.
Sometimes, though, an unexpectedly rich performance in one film will lead a viewer to overestimate an actor’s talents. I, for instance, was amazed by Melanie Griffith’s acting in Something Wild. For years after, I waited for her to amaze me like that again.
It never happened. After being disappointed over and over again, it finally struck me. Griffith just didn’t have much range. Playing a certain type, she was great. Outside of that, though, she couldn’t create a credible characterization. We can only hope that, as age diminishes her ability to play sexpot roles, she gains the talent to learn to play other things well. It is possible. Look at Kim Bassinger in LA Confidential.
Same thing with Reeves. He was good in Dangerous Liaisons. Then why was he so bad in all the subsequent period movies that he ended up being cast in? (Especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula: “This is a really awesome castle, dude!”) Why, in every such role afterward, did he so seem to scream 20th Century! with each utterance and every body movement?
Well, let’s really examine his role in Dangerous Liaisons. In retrospect, it’s obvious that he is in fact playing a variation on his patented Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan character after all. Perhaps he’s better spoken, as befits the character’s background. Still, he’s ultimately a gawky, callow youth, whose naivetÃ© makes him a tool for the malign lead characters. Looked at from that perspective, the role isn’t as much of a stretch as it initially seemed to be.
Reeves was able to ride the momentum of this part for quite some time. Following a subsequent number of mediocre performances, however, people started catching on. Perhaps Reeves wasn’t all he was cracked up to be, acting wise. Then he lucked into a small little action gem called Speed, and his career revived. He was now designated an up and coming action star, one of a new generation that would replace the aging Schwarzeneggers, Stallones and Seagals.
However, there were two problems. First of all, Reeves was of the Johnny Depp school of thesping, and was similarly fearful of mainstream success. Therefore, he tended to turn down many of the big action roles offered to him, despite (to his credit) the large paydays attached. The obvious example being Speed 2, which might have been a much larger success had Reeves returned to the fold.
More important, though, was that Reeves really doesn’t have the chops. Perhaps, like Christian Slater, he’s just not all that convincing in action parts. Or maybe Reeves just doesn’t put his heart into such stuff, since he doesn’t really want to be a ‘star’ so much as an actor. Certainly, he massively sucks in what is written to be a fairly standard hero role in Johnny Mnemonic. A straight performance could have grounded what is a very strange flick. Instead, Reeves fails to provide the film with a stable center, and the film utterly spins out of control.
‘Future’ movies will often, of necessity, begin with either a narrated spiel or a ‘crawl,’ like the opening text that sets up the Star Wars movies. This is, of course, a time saving device to get the audience up to speed on the ‘rules’ of the world that they’re watching. The problem with the written crawls, though, is that they now inevitably look like you’re ripping off Star Wars. This despite the fact that George Lucas used the crawl because it was such a clichÃ©. After all, Star Wars was intended to invoke memories of Sci-Fi serials of old.
Here, they attempt to evade the comparison by having the crawl come down in a straight line, rather than in a Star Wars-ian slant. They also have little rays of light shoot out from the text as it scrolls past. Despite this, you still think of Star Wars. Still, it does succeed in making the film look rather silly from it’s very first seconds. So it wasn’t a total loss. Here’s what we learn:
Already, the movie’s in trouble. I mean, c’mon. All this info flips by in less than a minute. Meanwhile, the audience, who probably aren’t up on their Cyberpunk lingo, have to digest an awful lot of unfamiliar concepts. Also, what are the odds that the average person is going to be able to separate the Corporations, the Yakuza, the LoTeks (oh brother!), the couriers, etc.
Then there’s wet-wired brains, plagues, ‘lethal viruses,’ data-pirates, etc. And even now the questions are likely to arise. For instance, since the LoTeks are hackers, implying a certain mobility, then why do they have ‘strongholds.’ Wouldn’t that make they easier to find and destroy? (Of course, it means that the hero can stumble across them at the appropriate point, too.)
Now, the filmmakers could argue that they made the film for Cyber-savvy audiences. If you don’t ‘get’ it, Square-o, too bad. After all, the film is adapted from the work of Cyberpunk grandfather William Gibson, the man generally credited with more or less inventing that particular sub-genre. In fact, Gibson himself wrote the screenplay (as he co-wrote the Cyberpunk episode of X-Files). We might argue that this is proof that Gibson should stick to the printed page. Still, it could as well be proposed that, since Gibson is much regarded as a genius, the fault for not liking the film must lie in the audience.
This could be an effective, if somewhat elitist (in a very nerdy sense of the word ‘elite’), defense. Except that the film dumbs down many of the genre elements in an attempt to make the film accessible to non-Sci-Fi literate viewers. Like Dune, the film tries to have it both ways, and fails. Too many concepts and characters are lobbed at the audience, introduced with clunky bursts of exposition, and then abandoned for an hour before coming back into play. There’s no way for the viewer to keep track of them all.
Anyway, after the opening crawl, we get our title, which appears and then explodes. Wow. Cool. How dynamic. (Note: The reader should read the previous description in a ‘voice’ heavily laden with sarcasm.) Then we get one of those ‘Tron’ shots, wherein what looks like a city street traffic shot is revealed to be the inner byways of a computer instead. (It’s interesting how quickly something can become a clichÃ©.) This, we are informed, is the “Internet – 2021″.
Again, from the imagery here, whoever is designing the future look of the Internet must have been a big Tron fan. We also see a Japanese ideogram. This is our first indication that the film was designed equally to appeal to Japanese audiences, who presumably would be a bit more computer literate than their Western counterparts. I’m assuming that when deciphered, the ideogram reads, well, “Internet-2021.”
We see random letters, and a block of text (seen backwards – wow, cool, etc.) ‘traveling’ through the Internet. Presumably, this is supposed to represent data flowing around. The ‘trip’ ends with a human eye opening up, and we see the data message actually on the open eye. (Wow, etc.) This image, reflected from a nearby computer monitor, is a wake-up call for a guest at the ‘New Darwin Inn.’ I guess mentioning a scientist in a ‘science fiction’ film is supposed to be ‘neat’ in some fashion. If that’s their idea of an ‘in-joke,’ however, we’re in a lot of trouble. Perhaps the guest will now go to ‘Einstein Bagels’ for breakfast.
He proves, naturally, to be our star, Keanu Reeves, as the titular Johnny. We also hear the message, as well as see it. Johnny reacts by pointing a remote at the room’s computer station. (Like in a 3-D movie, he points it directly at us. You half expect that the remote’s little red light, which comes on when a button’s pushed, to come beaming out into the audience). This cancels the wake-up call, while ‘The Nostalgia Channel’ comes onscreen. (The ‘Nostalgia’ thing is slightly symbolic, but in a very slight way, and not worth getting into.)
A different camera angle reveals a woman who’s just finishing dressing in the suite’s bathroom. This is some apparently some chick Johnny’s that picked up for a one-nighter. At least they don’t use the opportunity for a gratuitous breast shot, I’ll give them that. However, we do get to see plenty of evidence that the sheet draped Keanu’s been working out. I guess he figured that a sufficiently buff bod would make up for a lack of a performance.
The woman continues to get dressed, while fulfilling certain responsibilities of an expository nature. Pulling on her stocking, she asks Johnny “where home is?” Johnny reacts in a confused manner, eventually noting that he doesn’t know. The woman says that she’s going out to get ice, even though Johnny sees that they still have some left. (Given how fancy this hotel looks, wouldn’t they just order it through Room Service?)
Apparently, this was just an excuse to leave. Perhaps she’s looking for a more interesting actor. Hey, I hear that William Macy is just down the hall, lady! Depressed, Johnny does that ‘pointing the remote and activating the red light right at the audience’ thing again. Man, it’s even cooler the second time around!
This time we see that he’s using it to dial a phone call through his computer station. Wow, it’s a computer, and a TV, and a telephone to boot! This is a perfectly reasonable concept, that computer workstations will assume these functions and more. In fact, it’s so reasonable that it in no way seems surprising. Yet it’s obvious that the filmmakers expected kind of a ‘wow’ response from this. This isn’t good. A film that doesn’t know what’s going to work with its audience is in deep trouble.
Johnny’s call is to ‘Ralfi,” a disreputable looking gent who soon appears on his computer monitor. Johnny asks him if he’s ‘locked down’ the date for ‘the procedure.’ (Hmm, I smell a Plot Point.) Ralfi is played by Udo Kier, a cult-movie type actor hired when a director wants a weird vibe off a character. Maybe Michael J. Pollard was busy.
To his chagrin, Johnny learns that the price for his procedure has almost doubled. Once he has the money, though, Ralfi promises that the ‘implant’ will be removed, and all his memories restored. See, this explains (sort of) the whole ‘I don’t know where my home is’ thing. Gee, will this quest to retrieve his memories cause him to take a well-paying but extremely dangerous job?
This price adjustment gives ‘actor’ Reeves an opportunity to sell enough wood to build a house. I think he’s supposed to be frustrated and enraged. Instead, he acts like someone inordinately pissed that he’s been brought a Diet Coke instead of a regular Coke. In fact, he’s not even that good. Frankly, he just sucks. Imagine Al Gore playing, well, Al Gore. And we’re barely five minutes into the movie. My head hurts.
Nor is Reeves helped by director’s Richard Longo’s penchant for tight close-ups of his star. Staring at Keanu’s magnified face only serves to accentuate how poor he is at projecting any kind of emotion. Think of the emotional range of his ‘Ted’ character. He’s either dazedly happy, in a laid back way, or mildly consternated, in a laid back way. Meanwhile, in Speed Reeves played an exaggeratedly levelheaded character, who reacts with calm to the most outrageous situations. In other words, his smart directors know not to give him a lot to do, emotion-wise. He’s just one of those actors who are literally incapable of hamming it up.
Well, back to our story, such as it is. Sure enough, Johnny’s being maneuvered into taking on one last big job. He’s to report to “central Beijing” the next day for the ‘pick-up.’
We cut to a street demonstration. All the demonstrators are wearing those paper air filter masks. A caption (shades of Highlander II!) informs us that this is taking place in, yes, central Beijing. I guess that explains why all the protesters are Asian. Johnny exits a cab, and cuts through the crowd as we watch cops beating up demonstrators. Or something. I don’t know. The background music is somber, though, clueing us in that something not good is happening here. Of course, as we never learn what the riot is about, and since it never comes again into play during the rest of the film, I don’t see why we should care.
Johnny enters the building in front of which the demonstration is taking place. It’s another fancy hotel. (Maybe it’s the New Oppenheimer Inn.) Here we do see a really cool piece of set dressing, a large globular aquarium. Hey, listen, you gotta grab what entertainment you can here. I know that Douglas understands what I’m talking about, given his fixation with the Nut ‘o’ Fun from Exorcist II. They must have known it was one of the neatest things in the movie, too, because they have Johnny walk right past it. That way the following camera gets a really good shot of the fish and air bubbles and everything.
Even though they can’t aim the camera at the aquarium for the whole movie (worse luck), they pause and really milk the thing. Johnny playfully gestures to a little girl on the other side of the tank. That way we know that he’s a good guy. We also see a reverse shot, spotlighting a distorted visage of Johnny. (Geez Louise, that kind of thing was old hat when they did in back in The Brain from Planet Arous and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman in the ’50s.) In fact, his image is so distorted that it almost looks like Johnny is expressing an emotion. Maybe they should have filmed his earlier ‘angry tirade’ through this thing.
Johnny comes around the aquarium to see that the giggling little girl is in fact one of a pair of identical twins. This is filmed in such a manner as to suggest that it ‘means’ something, but we don’t know what. Regrettably, he then moves on, leaving the aquarium behind. Good-bye, giant spherical fish tank! I’ll always remember you!! Bye!!
As Johnny waits for an elevator, one of the (I presume) LoTek rebels momentarily breaks into the television signal. We see this on one of the lobby’s big screen TVs. Apparently, that whole ‘HDTV’ thing failed to take off, as this is clearly an old fashioned projection set. The hacker adjures viewers to “snatch back your brain, zombie!” Hmm. If audience members had done that during the film’s theatrical run, they also would have snatched back the cost of their admittance, and this flick would have made even less money than it did anyway.
Johnny conveniently gets an elevator car to himself. Inside, he unwrapped a small package roughly the size of a candy bar. Ralfi had earlier asked if he’d gotten a memory upgrade. This is it, I guess. The package contains a small metal box, with the kind of plug you use to connect your headphones to your stereo. This Johnny inserts into a socket mounted directly into the back of a bad model of his head.
The box turns out to be a ‘memory doubler.’ To help up understand this, it helpfully has a ’2X’ graphic imprinted on it. ’2X’ equals ‘two times’ equals ‘doubled.’ Get it? Pushing a button, we see a little bar start to turn green, while a voice informs him (and us) “Your storage capacity is now 160 gigabytes. Warning! Do not exceed capacity!” (Hmm, I smell a Plot Point.) Unfortunately, the film ignores its own warning, going on to exceed the capacity of most of the audience to figure out what the hell is going on.
Upstairs, two Asian gentlemen are waiting for Johnny. One is freaking out because he’s late, the other is trying to calm him down. Then the room’s doorbell rings. We see other occupants in the room. Everyone scrambles to the door, weapons drawn. Johnny enters, and they kill him. Then my fantasy ends, and they haven’t killed him. (I like my version better.)
This is one of Johnny’s ‘action hero’ moments, wherein he reacts to danger with a suave quip. Seeing the weaponry arrayed before him, he raises his briefcase head high (which almost gets him shot) and murmurs “Double cheese, anchovies?” I can’t really explain what’s wrong with Reeves’ delivery (no pun intended) of this line. It’s like he delivered it having never seen a James Bond or Die Hard movie before. Of course, it’s not exactly the greatest zinger in the world, either.
Johnny identifies himself as ‘Mr. Smith.’ Apparently the Art of the Alibi has undergone immense growth in the future. Gee, wouldn’t ‘Mr. Cinomenm’ be even better? His clients complain that he’s late, but unfortunately lower their weapons. Johnny, noting how nervous they are, asks them some expository questions. We learn some vague and useless details about how Johnny gets contacted and paid.
Johnny asks to ‘see’ the data they want uploaded (?), but pauses first to reach for a device on his belt. His clients start skittishly at this, reminding us how they’re supposed to be nervous and all. However, the device is merely a ‘motion detector,’ as Johnny informs us. He attaches this to the door. That way Johnny will have warning to help him escape when Bad Guys crash the room and slaughter his clients. (Oops. Hope I didn’t blow that for you.) Of course, by then he’ll have the data downloaded into his brain, the information that the Bad Guys would kill him for, and our story can continue.
Now, the one thing I don’t get is why Johnny’s pocket ‘motion detector’ is supposed to be so neat. (Remember, Johnny’s supposed to be a kind of cutting edge technology guy, like someone who owns every item in the Sharper Images catalog.) For instance, his clients are really nervous, right. They all point their guns at the door before opening it. Right?
Well, I’d have to assume that in the year 2021, portable security cameras and receivers are going to be very small and in regular use. So rather then being amazed at Johnny’s gizmo, I wonder why the group hasn’t mounted a much more useful portable camera above the door of their suite. This would allow them to monitor the hallway outside, and to better prepare for attack.
Of course, then Johnny wouldn’t be Cutting Edge Guy. Besides, these characters are really only here to be blown away in an audience pleasing action sequence (I foresee lots of exploding squibs and slo-mo shots) after giving Johnny the film’s MacGuffin. So never mind.
Johnny asks how much he’s carrying. “Three hundred and twenty gigabytes,” comes the reply. Hey! That’s way over the limit that the Memory Doubler voice warned him not to exceed! (Guess I was right about that ‘Plot Point’ thing.) Johnny learns that his clients have been lead to believe that this is his storage capacity.
Desperately needing the job, however, Johnny doesn’t inform them differently. (Beside, then the movie would be over.) He’s to take the data to Newark. Now there’s a scary thought! You just know that the New Jersey of the future is going to be some kind of horrifying dystopia. Pretty much like it is now.
Johnny, in what I guess is supposed to be a comical moment, grabs a remote from a guy and mutes the TV. Unwisely, we are shown that the TV is playing an old Bogart movie. Bogart! I’m sure this is meant to be a ‘homage’ or something, but, c’mon! (Like Bogart needs a homage from these doofi!) Here’s a tip to filmmakers. When making a movie, it’s never a good idea to remind the audience that other people make them very, very much better.
We next get a prime example of the bad kind of Expository Dialog. I.e., the kind where people trade information that they obviously already know in a transparent attempt to keep the audience up on what’s happening. Here, Johnny’s clients (against their own interests, mind you) remind him why he shouldn’t radically exceed his memory limits. Which is because the overload would kill him in a couple of days were he unable to download the data. This, in case you don’t get it, is our ‘plot.’
Johnny prepares to accept the data. Meanwhile, we cut to the lobby and see some sinister looking guys, presumably the Yakuza dudes mentioned in the opening crawl. (The Yakuza, by the way, is real, being more or less the Japanese version of the Mafia.) One of them pushes the elevator button, and we see a gizmo like a big stainless steel Lee Press-on Nail attached to his thumb. Since the camera highlights it, I guess we’ll be seeing it later.
These are apparently the guys who will kill Johnny’s clients before they give him some vital piece of information. This will set Johnny running against the ‘my brain’s going to explode’ clock, as he seeks to find who’s trying to doublecross him, escapes certain death, and gives the no doubt pivotal information in his head to the LoTek Resistance, which will allow them to save humanity in the closing moments of the film, as Johnny gazes lovingly at whatever beautiful and fearless woman he’ll meet during the remaining course of the film.
Of course, I’m just guessing here. And, needless to say, a movie would have to be pretty stupid if I can sit here ten minutes into it and plot out the entire rest of the film. So I’m probably going to be wearing a lot of egg on my face when the movie’s over.
Johnny takes apparently ordinary objects from his briefcase and constructs some MacGyverish doohickey. This is one of the film’s better moments, since there’s something intrinsically interesting about the sheer mechanics of such a thing. Besides, the scene doesn’t require Reeves to act, only to exhibit enough physical dexterity to assemble the pieces in a smooth fashion. This he is capable of.
As he prepares to download the data, he tells one of his deadmeat clients to use a device at a certain point in the procedure. This will randomly capture three frames from the TV broadcast, and meld them with the data. These, then, will serve as the download code. That way, even Johnny (Plot Point!) won’t know what the code is. Then a ‘hard copy’ of the captured code will be faxed to the recipient. That way only they will be able to access the data. (OK, that’s kind of cool.)
Gee, I hope something doesn’t go wrong when Johnny is forced to flee when his clients are all getting killed.
Johnny dons one of those VR headset deals, then inserts the plug into the socket at the back of his bad fake head. Meanwhile, we cut to what must be the rather slow elevator. The lead guy, the one with the thumb gizmo, informs his henchguys (and us) that the targets are scientists who used to work for their Pharmacom, their Evil Corporate Partners. He calls them defectors, so presumably I was on the right track with the ‘vital info meant for the Resistance’ thing.
Next, we are treated to a moment destined to cause ecstatic fantasization in any viewer of this movie. Johnny inserts a mouthpiece, presumably to keep him from biting his tongue off. (As if that would be a bad thing.) Then the magic moment occurs, as he calls out “Hit me!” If only I could!
Oops! I’ve got saliva flowing from my mouth, like when Homer Simpson imagines makin’ bacon on the beach. Sorry, but could I have a moment to collect myself?
Thanks. We see the data represented in a Tron-ish fashion as it downloads. Meanwhile, Reeves grunts and groans and pulls back his lips in a pained fashion, in order that we understand that this is a painful process for him. Hmm, this might be the most entertaining moment in the film. After all, I’ve been ‘downloading information’ for a little over ten minutes now and it’s been painful for me, too. Back at you, guy.
This goes on for a while, as it’s supposed to be one of the movie’s ‘cool’ scenes. Meanwhile, the client guy hits the remote three times, capturing images from the TV to create the download code. For some reason (for which all old movie fans should be eternally grateful) the Bogart movie is now longer on. Instead, images are captured from what appears to be a rather generic Japanese Anime-type cartoon. After the process is done, the images print out, ready to be faxed and then destroyed.
It’s at this moment, unsurprisingly, that the Bad Guys slowly begin to saunter out of the elevator. After all, they have to give the scientists time to fax off the download code images before they can be killed. Meanwhile, Johnny appears shaken, apparently discombobulated by having so much data in his head. This expression Reeves pulls off. I imagine this has happened to him many times in real life, although one suspects that it normally takes a lot less than three hundred and twenty gigabytes of info to trigger it.
Johnny asks for the bathroom, which will conveniently place him outside the main room when the Bad Guys enter and start killing everyone. Meanwhile, his clients scramble to destroy the disk that held the data that was downloaded. (This is done by holding it over a stove – isn’t there a more exact process for this in the future?) Another fellow begins to fax the code images. This is intercut with shots of the Bad Guys still slowly walking down the hallway, drawing their weapons.
Johnny, in the bathroom, is grabbing his head painfully. He swears and we see flashes of computer animation representing the data in his noggin. Again, one gets the idea that this ‘my brain hurts’ thing happens to Reeves in real life whenever he must process too much information. (“Hey, Keanu! How are you?” “Agh! Oow! &%#(@< #!!!”)
To let us know that something bad is happening, blood begins dripping out from his nostril. For some reason, this has become standard Hollywood code for “I’m expending too much mental energy!” However, Johnny regains control of himself for the moment by doing some of those martial art arm sweeps. These allow him to stop trying to move his facial muscles and to return them to their normal placid state.
Johnny exits the washroom, still away from the others, when the motion detector he attached to the door goes off. (Does this happen every time a guest walks down the hall? Or is it only calibrated to go off when goons with guns surround the door?) Rather than warning the others (what a guy!) he ducks back into the bathroom. Much like the movie, Johnny can’t seem to stay out of the toilet.
Remember that gadget we saw attached to the Bad Guy’s finger earlier? Well, now he tugs on the end, and a whip-like wire comes out (or something). This is suffused with energy of some sort and generally works like a light saber. He uses this to cut around the door locks and kick the door open. Considering that his fellows go in with guns a’blazin’, you wonder why they just didn’t shoot the lock off. I guess it wouldn’t have been as ‘cool.’
They manage to mow down the scientists pretty easily, in a scene featuring lots of exploding squibs and slo-mo shots. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?) Meanwhile, one henchguy checks out the bathroom. Johnny sends him through a convenient glass wall. (?) Apparently, we saw those calming martial arts moves a moment ago to establish that Johnny has some fighting skills. Of course, the fact that the henchguy acted like an idiot when entering the bathroom helped too.
We now get a really poor piece of editing. We saw the client enter the photo strip/download code into the fax machine a little over two minutes ago. It’s just now starting to fax. I know that this was done to add ‘suspense.’ But is it believable that in the future, when the transfer of data has become so much more sophisticated, that it would take over two minutes to establish a fax connection? I frankly don’t buy it. It could have been sent over a modem in like a second. But, of course, this is a Plot Point, so logic doesn’t apply.
Johnny, of course, needs to make sure that the Bad Guys don’t get the code. So he fights his way to the fax machine and grabs the photo strip. (In a side bit, we see the scientist group’s only female putting up the best fight so far before she gets killed. I guess that this is to show that the filmmakers aren’t ‘sexist.’)
He’s then confronted by the guy with the laser wire. In action, this proves to be less of a Light Saber sort of thing and more of a Light Whip. As portrayed, this looks like it would be hard to direct. Since we see it slice cleanly through a stone statue, I wouldn’t want to be one of his comrades standing by when he started whipping that thing around.
In a big plot point moment, his whip slices into the photo strip, cutting it in half. This means that the code needed to download the data is now the film’s official MacGuffin, rather than the data itself. Johnny manages to escape from the room with his half of the photo strip. Meanwhile, the henchmen lay around until the leader, Laser Whip Guy, orders them to go capture Johnny. Apparently, this group isn’t real big on initiative.
One client still living grabs the photo strip and sets fire to it. Laser Whip Guy reacts by swooshing his arm off. This still leaves the photo on fire, so I’m not sure how effective a move that was. Then, in another bad editing moment, he retrieves an undamaged portion of the strip, even though it should have been entirely destroyed by this point. So Johnny has one image, part of the strip is destroyed, and the Yakuza has the rest. Everyone got it?
The Yakuza henchguys are seen running down the hall, past what appear to be bodies. Did they kill someone on the way up? We never saw it. Meanwhile, Johnny is in the stairwell, manipulating what appears to be a woman’s hat. Then he runs down the stairs. I have no idea what’s going on here. We see the henchguys leaving the elevator downstairs, guns drawn. Then the camera spotlights another guy leaving the other elevator. About the fifth time I saw this, I finally figured out that his was Johnny wearing a disguise. If I hadn’t watched the film one last time, I never would have gotten this. Maybe I’m just dense.
We cut to a cityscape with the helpful caption “Free City of Newark.” This is represented with ominous street shots meant to convey that the place is dangerous. Heavy metal music blares forth, adding a discordant note as well as another song for the movie’s soundtrack album. The streets are deserted and trash-strewn, like in (in fact, very much like in) Escape from New York. Which happened to be a significantly better film than this. To add to the feeling of ‘menace,’ the streets are shot through a severely tilted camera angle. This works just as well as it did in The Holcroft Covenant. Which didn’t happen to be a significantly better movie than this.
Like in Escape from New York, we see bums living in the street. This is to let us know that this is a ‘bad’ future, and that the Corporations running the bad future are bad too. Otherwise, why would there still be poor people? I’m sure that after Johnny climatically delivers the vital information to the LoTeks and they use it to destroy the Evil Corporation, that then there won’t be any more poor people. Oh, and nobody will just be crazy or an alcoholic or a drug addict or anything, either. Or mean. Or, you now, bad or sick in any way.
Johnny has just arrived in Newark via jet, and inserts his passport into a customs machine. This scans him with a beam that shows his skeleton as it passes over his body. Not, mind you, on a screen or monitor of any kind. No, apparently when the beam passes over your body it shines right through your skin and clothes and such. This doesn’t seem very healthy. Nor, you would think, would it be advantageous to have such a beam pass over your open (or closed) eyeballs. Still, it looks ‘neat,’ so let’s just ignore the issue.
The machine picks up on Johnny’s wet-wire implant. It flashes a warning until its database reveals that the implant is legally licensed. However, it’s apparently one of those newfangled customs/plot point machines. Therefore, it warns him that the implant is overloaded and will kill him in about twenty-four hours. My, what a helpful machine. Perhaps it also reads your cholesterol count. “Warning: Stop eating cheeseburgers! And a molar on your left side needs work!”
Having gotten through customs, Johnny tosses his passport. Apparently, ‘John Smith’ isn’t his real identity. Then we cut to the headquarters of the Pharmacom Corporation. These are the guys that the Yakuza are working for. Not that we needed to know that to know that they’re Evil. I mean, they’re a Corporation big enough to have a large building as their headquarters. What more needs to be said?
Upstairs, Laser Wire Guy is reporting to Takahashi, the head of Pharmacom’s American branch. He’s played by Japanese star (Beat) Takeshi. Takeshi’s a huge star in Japan, and one super-hyperactive dude as well. He has multiple newspaper columns and TV shows, and I mean all at the same time. He also makes movies. One of his recent films, Fireworks, played the art theater circuit here. It was a pretty nice piece of work, with Takeshi writing, starring and directing the film, as well as providing the artwork supposedly created by a character in the film (!). The guy’s amazing.
Apparently, he had a beefier part in the Japanese cut of the film. In that version, he was more of a co-star with Reeves. This was meant to increase the chance that Japanese audiences would see the film. For their sake (unless that version was much, much better than this one), I hope this gambit didn’t work.
Takahashi notices Laser Wire Guy’s thumb implant. He comments, via subtitle, that “I see you’ve turned your shame into an asset.” For those not up on the Yakuza, they have this thing where, when you lose face, you ceremonially cut off a finger to atone. The implication is that Laser Wire Guy took advantage of his stump (although I don’t think they normally cut thumbs off) to have the Laser Wire attached. I’m actually kind of glad that they didn’t explain all that, but it must have confused most non-Japanese viewers.
Laser Wire Guy offers his condolences for Takahashi’s recent grief. (Apparently, Takahashi is going to be one of your Tragically Doomed yet Honorable Bad Guys.) Takahashi notes that Laser Wire Guy’s Japanese is terrible, and orders him to converse in English. Hey, now we’ll be able to understand him without reading subtitles! That’s a stroke of luck.
Since Takahashi is only the local head of Pharmacom, he can still turn against his Corporate Overlords before dying a tragic yet heroic death. Hey, maybe the recent death of his only daughter will facilitate that decision! We also learn that Laser Wire Guy is supposed to decapitate Johnny, cryogenically preserve his head, and bring it back to Japan to retrieve the data. Hmm, I’ve got no problem with that.
See, the rebel scientists erased the data from Pharmacom’s computers after stealing it. Johnny’s noggin contains the only remaining record of it. And what, exactly, is the data? Oh, something Evil that will be shockingly revealed later on. So Evil, perhaps, that Takahashi, shaken by his recent grief, will decide to turn against his Evil Corporate Overlords and help Johnny and the LoTek rebels before dying a tragic yet honorable death. Meanwhile, Takahashi demands the portion of the photo strip that Laser Wire Guy retrieved.
Back to Johnny. Reeves now has another amusing/embarrassing ‘angry outburst’ scene. He’s in a taxi, yelling at Ralfi over another video screen. Ralfi is obviously setting Johnny up, and acts in such an overtly Peter Lorre-ish fashion that even the somewhat dense Johnny figures out that something’s not right. (Gee, guy, what was your first clue?) Ralfi assures him that only his people can remove the data. Johnny will just have to trust him.
We cut to a poorly lit yet happening nightclub, which features a woman opera singer. (!) Presumably, this sort of thing will be very big in the future. It’s also about time for Johnny’s Love Interest to, literally, enter the picture. Therefore, when an attractive female meets up with a scientist type, Spider (cult singer/actor Henry Rollins), at the club, well, I think we all know we’ll be seeing more of her later.
We learn that Love Chick (during this entire scene no one calls her by name, and I’m too bored to fast forward to the end credits to find out) is a genetically engineered bodyguard-for-hire. Spider is the guy who did her, uh, body work. He mumbles on about her nervous system, making us confront that fact that she has her own annoying backstory. As if following the ‘I have to download the data’ storyline wasn’t tedious enough, now we’re supposed to be concerned that our heroine’s nervous system’s going to give out. Well, guess what. I just don’t care. And if you were watching this, you wouldn’t either.
So how does this all tie in with Johnny? Well, Ralfi’s in the club (meaning Johnny should be showing up soon). He manages bodyguards, and Love Chick wants in. Her augmentations make her reflexes super-fast. (This is what we in Jabootu-Land call an Informed Attributeâ„¢, by the way, meaning that we keep hearing about it and thus are supposed to accept it as true, even though we never see any actual evidence of her supposed skills). However, she’s wired so tightly that she can barely stop moving. When Ralfi only offers her work as a prostitute, she vows revenge. Hmm, maybe helping the (I’m sure) imminently arriving Johnny to escape from Ralfi’s clutches will provide the opportunity for revenge that she’s looking for.
Speaking of, Johnny’s soon let out onto a deserted street, again right out of Escape from New York. He’s being watched by two guys up in a deserted building. One has a scope or scanner or something that tells him that Johnny has a wet-wire implant. This guy, J-Bone, proves to be rapper/actor Ice-T.
Amazingly, Mr. T, er, Mr. Ice, uh, anyway, decided after appearing in this turkey that it would be a good idea to star in similarly ill-fated futuristic Sci-Fi adventure, Tank Girl. There (I believe), he portrayed a half-man/half-kangaroo. Really. One hopes for his sake (because he’s not a bad actor), and ours, that he steers clear of stuff like this in the future.
J-Bone and his teenaged companion try to figure out what a well-dressed dude like Johnny is doing out here. Meanwhile, Johnny is walking around. To communicate that something is awry, they again (*sigh*) tilt the camera angle. Wow. How Expressionistic. Johnny wanders around until a guy appears in a doorway and hails him. “You’re Johnny?” he yells. “Am I?” Johnny cleverly replies.
Before entering the building, Johnny surreptitiously sticks something to the wall outside. Inside, we see Baldy, the guy that Johnny beat up in the hotel bathroom earlier in the movie. He’s got a hacksaw, the better to remove Johnny’s head with. (Hey, I don’t have a problem with that.) Gee, Ralfi set him up. Who’d thought.
The first thug violates Ken’s Rule of Guns and gets taken out by Kung Fu Johnny. Baldy, though, gets the drop on him. Actually, he aims his gun at Johnny’s head. I really wouldn’t do that myself. After all, his bosses aren’t going to be very pleased if he sneezes and blow’s Johnny’s head apart. Not, however, that I would have a problem with that.
“Time to die,” Baldy notes. “Time?” Johnny replies, raising his watch up to head height to look at it. (Why don’t villains ever kill the hero as soon as he makes a suspicious move?) He pushes a button and the gizmo he attached to the wall outside explodes. This gives him the opportunity to make his escape.
Baldy soon follows. Failing to spot the hiding Johnny, he yells “We’ve got all night, assh*le!” I have to admit, I was really scared at this moment. The thought that this movie would last all night frankly terrified me.
J-Bone is still watching all this, while his young associate tries to grab the scope for a better look. Johnny distracts Baldy with the ‘throwing a rock and making a noise over there’ trick. Right after this, the kid with J-Bone stumbles. Hearing this, Baldy turns and rakes their position with gunfire. The kid buys it, and, in accordance with Ken’s Second Rule of High Altitude Mortality, falls to the ground.
Baldy examines the kid’s body, then turns away. He turns back, however, when he hears J-Bone slide down a rope. He’s found hunched over the kid, apparently checking whether he might be OK after eating some bullets and falling six stories onto shattered bricks and rocks. Baldy, not being the world’s best henchman, taunts J-Bone long enough to allow Johnny to sneak up on him.
Baldy’s soon out of it, courtesy of a board Johnny wields. Meanwhile, though, his partner has revived and soon has Johnny and J-Bone covered. J-Bone, however, has a knife launcher (!) attached to his arm (is this really more handy than carrying a gun?) and takes the guy out. Luckily, it’s one of those movie knifes that provides an instantly fatal wound, keeping the fellow from blowing our Heroes away before he expires.
Johnny grabs Baldy’s rifle, and strips it down until it’s a pistol. This results in a needlessly bulky, oversized Blade Runner-y kind of deal. (Future Gun, I guess.) J-Bone tells Johnny that he considers them even, that neither owes the other anything. Johnny, still suspicious, points his gun at him and demands his identity. “I run Heaven,” J-Bone says, “the LoTek headquarters.” This proves to be located on top of a nearby derelict suspension bridge.
Gee, how convenient. Johnny’s just happened to stumble across and establish a relationship, of sorts, with the leader of the LoTeks. Who, by the way, blurts out his identity to any stranger who points a gun at his head. He also shows them the location of their top-secret headquarters. Yep, I can see how these guys have evaded destruction at the hand of the Corporations all these years. Also, you’d think that this rebel leader would travel around with a little more security. But what do I know?
This sets up a ridiculous bit when Johnny turns back from looking over at LoTek headquarters, which he does for maybe two seconds. Thereupon, he discovers that not only has J-Bone disappeared, but he’s managed to spirit away the kid’s body as well. Oh, eerie! Presumably, the rope he came down on is motorized somehow, and he was whisked back upstairs. Still, if he was loud enough to attract Baldy’s notice when coming down by himself, how could he go back up, carrying a corpse yet, without alerting Johnny? Of course, the fact that Johnny’s a blockhead might have something to do with it.
Ralfi is washing his hands in the Club washroom when he’s assaulted by Johnny. (Where are those bodyguards that were made such a big deal of earlier?) Johnny wants Ralfi to get the data out of him. The tables are turned, however, when one of Ralfi’s bodyguards finally shows up and knocks Johnny out.
We cut back to the main club area, where the floorshow, in a style that I’m sure we’re meant to call Techno-Opera, is still going on. The still unidentified-by-name Love Chick is standing by, waiting to get her revenge on Ralfi by helping Johnny escape. She just doesn’t know it yet. Waiting, she takes her drink from the bartender, an older gent with a mechanical hand. Wow! The Future!
Love Chick notices Ralfi and company hauling Johnny through a door. This is her chance to advance the plot, er, gain her revenge, and she quickly follows. She stops by the bar and retrieves a couple of hoops, presumably weapons of the Xena ‘circular boomerang’ style. Action ahoy!
Love Chick goes into the washroom and accesses your obligatory person-sized air duct. This one is so large, in fact, that she can practically travel fully erect in it. Meanwhile, Johnny awakens in a connected room, wherein Ralfi has Laser Wire Guy waiting for him.
(Notice how no one mentions that Laser Wire Guy’s orders were to cut off Johnny’s head and freeze it. Which he easily could have done when Johnny was unconscious. Of course, then the movie would have over.) Johnny offers to link his half of the code with their half (I guess we’re ignoring the part that burned), and just give up the data. The Evil Corporation, however, wants Johnny’s head so that no one else can retrieve it.
This makes no sense. Here’s why: We’ve been told that Johnny has a limited amount of time to download the data before it kills him. This is because it’s overloading his brain, or something. This means that the downloading process doesn’t copy the data, it removes it. Otherwise, if it stayed in his head, it’d still kill him. So the script is just artificially creating a situation that puts Johnny’s back against the wall, while hoping that we don’t notice that none of this makes sense.
Love Chick comes crashing down through the air duct cover. One of her toys is a metal whip that straightens to become a rigid spear with a razor sharp edge. This isn’t spring-loaded, like one of those collapsible batons, so I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work. Hey, it’s the Future, right?
Here, about half an hour into the movie, we learn the heroine’s name. It’s Jane. Gee, that was worth the wait. Johnny offers her money to help him escape, and she accepts, cutting him free. Before this happens, however, the bound Johnny somehow manages to kick away Ralfi, who was sneaking up on Jane with a weapon. This really doesn’t say much for Jane’s vaunted ‘reflexes.’
Finally, the one guard that Laser Wire Guy brought comes running in, only to quickly buy it from one of Jane’s fancy throwing knives. Or something. Jane next gets caught up beating up on one of Ralfi’s bodyguards (this doesn’t prove how good Jane is, because said guard seems totally inept at fighting).
Johnny finally catches her attention. They escape by closing a chainlink sliding door that automatically locks (I guess) for no apparent reason. For some extremely ludicrous reason, Laser Wire Guy, who earlier effortlessly sliced through a solid stone statue, can’t cut through the thin metal links of the gate. There’s just no possible way to buy this. Pissed, he puts pay to the treacherous Ralfi by slicing him up like deli meat.
Jane stops in the alley to toss aside some garbage bags. I’m assuming that she’s looking for the script, in order to find out what the hell is going on. This search leads to Johnny asking “What are you doing?” Reeves gives this simple line an extremely odd read, sounding like someone who doesn’t speak English and learned the line phonetically.
Jane proves to have a big duffel bag of gear stashed under the trash (yeah, all right, whatever), which she retrieves just in time for her and Johnny to escape from the pursuing Laser Wire Guy and Ralfi’s one remaining bodyguard. (Why is she helping him? He just horribly killed her client.)
Johnny and Jane run from their gunfire. Johnny returns fire and almost immediately runs out of bullets. For such a massive gun it really didn’t have much of an ammo supply. The chase continues, including a shot so clichÃ© that it’s comical. Johnny and Jane come running through a cloud of steam emanating from a sewer grate, which is shot (yes) through a twisted camera angle. Meanwhile, Continuity Gaffe fans will derive pleasure from the fact that Johnny’s clearly still got his pistol in his hand, despite the fact that we just saw him hurl it away when it ran out of ammunition.
Jane (who for all her supposed ‘souping’ up doesn’t seem to run any faster than Johnny) pulls him into a junk strewn area rather reminiscent of Fred Sanford’s front yard. LWG (I’m tired of typing ‘Laser Wire Guy’) and Bodyguard Chick follow. However, they quickly find themselves surrounded by J-Bone and his LoTek crew. Living up to their name, while some of them have guns, others use bows and arrows (!) or even slingshots (!!).
LWG’s own reinforcements show up. However, the Mexican Standoff allows Jane and Johnny to escape through a manhole. This is shot through (yes) a twisting camera angle. Why? I have no idea. As they walk through the sewer (a rather nice metaphor, really) Jane demands her money. Johnny, however, travels in circles where money tends to change hands electronically. Jane doesn’t, and determines to stay with him until he gets some cash to pay her. This is the plot device used to explain Jane’s continued presence, at least until the two fall in love.
Jane asks his story. She gains renewed respect for him after learning that, as a data ‘smuggler,’ he has his own outlaw credentials. However, Johnny then has an ‘attack.’ We see flashes of ‘data’ just in case we forgot the whole basic plot of the movie.
We cut to Takahashi’s apartment. We see that his back is covered in an elaborate (what else?) dragon tattoo. He’s got footage of his deceased daughter playing on his computer monitor. Suddenly, a woman’s face and voice appear. This appears to be a personality constructed from the downloaded memories of someone now dead, who lives on (sorta) as a computer program. This is pretty remedial stuff to Cyberpunk fans, but I’m sure it confused regular audience members no end.
She warns him that Pharmacom’s aware of his demoralized state since the death of his daughter. They now consider him a liability, so he should beware of LWG. Next she informs him that if he can obtain the data in Johnny’s head, it’ll give him new purpose in life. Then, sensing that they’re being spied on, Electronic Ghost Woman disconnects.
Back in the sewer, Johnny appears to be in some sort of trance. (I think. It’s a little hard to tell. I mean, we’re talking Keanu Reeve’s here.) He’s having elliptical memory flashes, presumably bits of his life as a child. I believe we’re to think that they were removed to make room for his implant, but they are still stored somewhere and can be reinserted once the implant is removed. Which means these memories are yet another MacGuffin supposedly driving the film’s, er, action.
Johnny comes to, finding a watching Jane, who’s scattered her gear around. This leads to an inventory, including mace, throwing spikes and a (pink) hand grenade. I don’t know why they felt they had to spell out the bag’s contents, but whatever. Johnny, meanwhile, is pissed that she let him sleep. Given the whole ‘I’m dead in x hours’ thing. We see that the fingers of one of his hands are cramping up. This, apparently, is a sign his brain problem’s getting worse. Let’s just skip asking ‘why’ and move on.
Johnny asks how Jane knows the LoTeks. It turns out that she used to hang out with them as a kid. It’s interesting (well, not really) how Johnny just coincidentally keeps bumping into people associated with the LoTeks. Johnny fails to asks, of course, how Jane was able to arrange the impromptu ambush of LWG that saved their lives. Do a bunch of them always hide there fully armed, just in case somebody comes by who needs help?
Johnny now explains how he had to dump his personal memories to make room for the implant, yada yada. This is a horrendously boring ‘character’ scene, with our leads spilling their guts so that we’ll get to ‘know’ them better. The main disadvantage here is that this kind of scenes demands some acting talent, of which Reeves reveals little or none. You might think I’m just being mean, but if you watch this scene I think you’d have to agree with me.
Cue another tirade (if you can call what Reeves does a ‘tirade’), with Johnny again stating his need to access a computer. We cut to them breaking into some building. It’s a computer warehouse or something (how convenient). Johnny calls out the parts he needs while Jane (who should have no possible way of finding this stuff) collects them. These include ‘data gloves,’ sort of mental Waldos that allow the user to manipulate the Internet. This, by the way, one now literally ‘enters’ through a VR helmet.
(OK, I guess everyone knows that ‘VR’ is Virtual Reality, i.e., Johnny doesn’t access the Internet through a computer monitor, but instead wears a wraparound headpiece that creates the illusion that he’s actually ‘standing’ inside the Internet. Meanwhile, ‘Waldos’ are gloves that allow you to remote control robot hands from a distance, by having the robot hands replicate whatever movements you make while wearing the gloves. In this case, the gloves allow you to manipulate ‘objects’ in the VR Internet that Johnny’s entering.)
This is the film’s big ‘money’ scene, although again it’s not doing much that Tron didn’t already do. ‘Outside,’ we see Johnny wearing a faceplate and waving his hands around. ‘Inside,’ he’s traveling through the Internet, represented as your typical ‘city in a computer chip’ deal. This is actually pretty damn cool stuff, as we watch through Johnny’s eyes as he manipulates his way into the Beijing Hotel phone records to trace where the photo strip fax was supposed to go.
Johnny finds the address, a Copy Shop here in Newark. He traces the call there and accesses the fax machine’s buffer memory. However, as we saw earlier, the fax never started transmitting. All Johnny learns is a name for the intended recipient, Dr. Allcome. Johnny begins to hunt down Strike, a hacker on the Web who owes him a favor. He hopes Strike can get him info on Allcome.
However, the Yakuza has someone is a similar VR set-up posted as a kind of guard dog. He’s watching Internet traffic and locks on to Johnny’s location, which he feeds to LWG. LWG then orders him to “Initiate the virus.”
Johnny manages to find Strike, who doesn’t want anything to do with him. He’s too hot. All Strike knows is that the data in Johnny’s melon originated with Pharmacom, who’ve hired the Yakuza to get it back. Just then the virus makes its appearance, causing the Internet connection to crash. Electronic Ghost Woman shows up, warning Johnny that the Yakuza have arrived.
Checking things out in back, Jane sees carloads of goons arriving. She runs up and pulls Johnny’s VR helmet off. Johnny grabs something I’m sure we’ll see him use later and they make their exit. Not, however, before Jane uses her already established pink hand grenade to blow up LWG’s henchmen.
Now it’s time to meet the film’s most ludicrous character, which is saying something. Learning that LWG has again failed to capture Johnny, Takahashi contacts Street Preacher, a priest with the Church of the Retransfiguration. Since this is a Sci-Fi movie, religion must be played up as the occupation of nutbags. This is confirmed by the casting of the hulking Dolph Lundgren, who’s attired in sort of a Rasputin get-up, complete with beard and long flowing beard.
Street Preacher’s telescreen is located in the pages of some ancient tome he has in his candle lit library. Yeah, I know. This makes no sense. I think it’s supposed to be ‘neat.’ To somebody. To make sure we get that religion is the province of hypocritical weirdoes, SP begins fondling a large crucifix, which turns out to be the handle of a huge knife. (Oh, brother!) He asks who Takahashi needs to be “brought to Jesus.” Takahashi explains that he’d rather just have Johnny’s head.
Jane and Johnny, meanwhile, are holed up in some food court or something. Johnny uses a portable phone handset (that’s what he grabbed back at the computer store) to hack into Pharmacom’s private line for its head of security. He offers to come in and let them download the data. Security Guy says that that can be arranged.
Jane argues against this plan. Johnny, however, believes that corporate types are always ready to negotiate. Jane points out that if he’s wrong he’s “one dead Johnny!” Johnny replies with a line that’s sure to bring enthusiastic nods of audience empathy: “I’m going to be dead anyway if I don’t get this sh*t out of my head!” Amen, brother. I know exactly how you feel.
Jane then has a convenient nervous spaz attack, reminding us of her boring problem. Johnny figures out that she has the “Black Shakes.” (Isn’t that what McDonalds markets during African-American History Month? Personally, I still like the Shamrock Shake better.). Finding this inconvenient, Johnny drops her on a trash pile (!) and prepares to abandon her. (What a guy!) As a last resort, Jane tells him about Spider, and that maybe he can help them both.
Sure enough, we see them taking a taxi to a secluded industrial site. Johnny hauls the spazzing Jane out of the cab and over to a nearby door. Spider, seeing Jane’s condition over the security monitor, opens up. He lifts her on top of an examining table and shoots her up with muscle relaxant.
We learn that Jane, “like half the planet,” has NAS. Remember, that’s the “new plague” that was mentioned way back during the opening crawl. We’re now slightly half way through the movie, and this is the first that that this particular plot point has resurfaced. (And does anyone now want to guess what Johnny’s carrying in his head? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)
When Spider flips her back over, we get a tantalizing view of the side of her right breast, although the remainder of her chain mesh shirt is artfully arranged to deny us more than that. Spider flips out, explaining (Plot Point!) that NAS is caused by “information overload” and all the machines that everyone’s constantly surrounded by. This is all fairly incoherent. Is he saying that NAS is triggered by a society that bombards us with too much sensory input? Or that the omnipresent machines are generating an electromagnetic field that plays havoc with the human nervous system. Or am I putting more thought into this than they did?
Meanwhile, Street Preacher is stalking the town, looking for Johnny. He’s spotted by the LoTek guard outpost. This allows them to feed us expository information about how SP’s been modified, and has like bionic strength or something. This explained, we cut away.
We head back to Takahashi. He’s getting info on Anna Kalmann, the founder and former CEO of Pharmacom. She is, or was, the dead woman who is now the Electronic Ghost Woman. We learn that she has Swiss Citizenship under the Artificial Intelligence Laws of 2006, another of the film’s all too rare interesting ideas.
Back to Spider’s. He comes over to yell at Johnny for touching his stuff. Here we learn that Johnny doesn’t even remember his own last name. (C’mon, you’re telling me that they couldn’t leave that fact in his head?) Johnny has another minor attack and then begins to explain his problem to Spider.
We cut back to the Techno-Opera club. The bartender guy is in the back room, mopping up all the gore from the miscellaneous killings there. However, in a moment that would make us fear for this character’s continued utility, if we cared, anyway, Street Preacher makes an appearance. To make sure we ‘get’ how this guy’s evil and all, he begins to torture Bartender Guy, utilizing the left behind liquid nitrogen meant to freeze Johnny’s head. Street Preacher soon learns all about Spider.
Back to Spider, who’s giving Jane a diagnostic. Really. This partly entails attaching flashing lights to her forehead. Wow. Futuristic, eh. Johnny is undergoing a similarly sophisticated procedure, which features sitting under a strobe light. Jane wakes up. We can tell from her back that she’s not wearing a top, but she clenches a sheet to her chest.
Now, I frankly don’t care if they toss in a little gratuitous nudity or not. I can take it or leave it. But I mean, really, what are we, five years old? If Jane’s going to flash her boobies, then do it. Otherwise, stop playing peek-a-boo with us. It’s just irritating. And it’s even lamer than the nudity itself would be.
Johnny asks Spider is he knows Dr. Allcome. Spider seems to know something, but is evasive. Meanwhile, Jane slips back on her metal mesh shirt. Considering that she’s obviously not wearing a bra, I have to believe that this is a rather uncomfortable article of clothing. Still, what sacrifices mustn’t be made for Art, eh?! Bullied by Jane, Spider agrees to take Johnny to see the mysterious Dr. Allcome. Boy, they’re really building up to this guy (or gal). He’d better be worth it. (Yeah. I’m sure that that’ll happen.)
However, their trip is interrupted when Street Preacher appears before Spider’s truck. Standing in the street, he shouts “Halt, sinners!” in a manner so stiff as to challenge the mighty Keanu Reeves himself. (In fact, and I’ve had this confirmed by other viewers, Lundgren sounds like he’s ‘doing’ the line in the voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose.) This truly makes you wonder if they intentionally loaded the film with bad actors and singers and hambones and unknowns in order to keep the star from being shown up.
The only really decent performance in the whole movie comes from Takeshi, who ironically is an extremely stoic actor and who works much of the film while speaking a foreign language. Yet, like the deceptively minimalist acting of Clint Eastwood, Takeshi manages to convey a lot with a truly Spartan change of expression. Luckily for Reeves, though, Takeshi’s role in the American cut is rather small. Meanwhile, the audience, who has almost certainly given up looking for nuance at this point, might well miss just how good Takeshi’s performance is.
Spider hits the brakes, but they plow into SP, knocking him aside. Of course, he’s been set up as the Bionic Man (it seems a little silly for a huge hulking brute like Lundgren to augment himself, but anyway), so we’re not surprised to see him regain his feet. Meanwhile, our Heroes continue on their way.
Since this is supposed to be a dystopia, we have to get at least one scene showing us the poor victims of this Evil Society. Otherwise, we wouldn’t understand who the Heroes are saving. Sure enough, we end up in a bustling clinic/homeless shelter, where sufferers of NAS are attended to. Spider, being a doctor of sort, grabs a white coat while he’s here and lends a hand.
The camera tracks back in an attempt to replicate that famous shot in the train yard from Gone With the Wind. There, the camera pulls back from Scarlett O’Hara, ultimately revealing thousands upon thousands of war casualties. Here, we’re in a train depot, and the camera pulls back from Johnny Mnemonic in order to reveal a couple of hundred ‘plague’ victims.
However, it isn’t so much the smaller scale of the shot here that ruins it. Instead (aside from the sheer gall of these hacks ripping off shots from Gone with the Wind), it’s the main characters. Everyone we’ve met in this movie, including all the lead characters, is so silly and plastic and poorly drawn that you can’t take this world very seriously. If we don’t buy into the travails of the main characters, how can we possibly muster any empathy for some extras lying on the floor and pretending to suffer from a half-assed ‘plague?’
Another problem is that just when we start buying into the mass suffering, they cut back to Reeves, who’s futilely attempting to affix a look of ‘horror’ on his face. Once that spectacle gets us laughing, it’s hard to get back into the somber mood the movie is trying to create. Still, they attempt to ram the tragedy down our throats by showing us all this gruesome stuff, while manipulative ‘somber’ music nails down the point.
One can only be reminded of The Third Man (hmm, The Third Manâ€¦). The police in the film are trying to get Joseph Cotton to betray his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). In a pivotal scene, they escort Cotten to a local hospital ward, one that caters to children. They’re fever victims who were treated with degraded penicillin, sold on the black market by Lime. It’s implied that the children are horribly deformed. Yet, rather than show the kids, which would cheapen the scene, they rely on Cotton’s understated horror to get across how bad the sight is. It’s all remarkably effective.
In other words, it’s exactly the opposite of Johnny Mnemonic.
Still, we have a movie to finish here (someday, anyway). So Johnny, after his obligatory ‘Oh, the Humanity!’ moment, grabs hold of Spider and asks about Dr. Allcome. Spider reveals the big secret (get ready for it): As you may have guessed (especially if you’re the kind of person who can figure out that ‘Alucard’ is Dracula spelled backwards), Dr. Allcome is code for a general call to doctors when the clinic needs lots of help, but doesn’t want to spook the patients. Amazingly, Jane doesn’t ‘get’ it, so Spider lays it out. It’s Dr. All-Come. All come. Get it?
Needless to say, the fact that Spider kept this fact from Jane and Johnny (who apparently would suspect nothing upon meeting Count Alucard) makes absolutely no sense. What possible motive could he have had? I mean, in ‘film’ terms, it’s obvious that the idea was to create a mini-mystery and then to dazzle the audience with a purportedly clever explanation. They may have totally failed in this pursuit, but you could see what they were getting at. But in internal terms, all Spider did was to provide our leads, including a woman whom he supposedly cares deeply, with false hope. This is extremely bad scripting, and the fact that you can so easily see the ‘strings’ only makes it worse.
Spider admits that the fax to Dr. Allcome was for ‘us.’ Johnny asks who ‘us’ is, and Spider replies “The NAS Underground. The people who keep this place going.” First of all, this giant clinic might be in a bad part of town (assuming that the Newark of the future manages to procure a ‘good part of town’), but it hardly seems secret. So I’m not sure how it’s run by an ‘Underground.’
Also, I don’t know why Spider’s been jerking Johnny around. At first, it seemed that it was because Spider had a crush on Jane and didn’t want any competition. However, if I’m following this, then the NAS Underground, of which Spider is a part, is Johnny’s client. (I’m not even going to again examine how everyone that Johnny bumps into turns out to have ties to the Resistance.) Therefore, you’d think Spider’d be more enthusiastic about getting Johnny some help.
Seeming to have now figured this out for himself, he has Johnny jump up onto a table. He wraps a silly looking wired headband about Johnny’s forehead, and hands him a plug so he can jack into whatever gizmo this is. (My fear is that it’s that brain probing machine from Exorcist II. If I remember correctly, that device allowed people to share a mental plane, or something. I mean, imagine connecting up to this thing and finding yourself wandering through the vast formless desert that is Keanu Reeves’ mind.)
Spider is annoyed to learn about the ‘random image’ encryption code thing. His response? He reaches for a disc just sitting on the machine, slides it in, and notes “I got some decryption codes, here, I’ll run and see if we come up with anything.” He continues, though, that he’d have to be “real lucky.” Yeah, you’d think so.
After about six seconds, he admits that he’s stumped. Well, you obviously did everything humanly possible. He suggests Plan B: Go in there with some pliers and yank the implant out. Johnny protests that this might kill him. (Actually, I’ve got no problem with that.) To make the moment more ‘kinetic,’ the director (Richard Longo, who has, to this day, an obscure art film and a Tales From the Crypt episode as his only other credits) has the camera uselessly whip around a little here.
Spider points out that he’ll die when the implant ‘ruptures,’ anyway. This way, he’ll only lose some motor skills and suffer some brain damage. Johnny replies with a juicy oath (this is the kind of movie that tries to establish its street credentials by having everybody swear all the time), indicating that he’d prefer not to exercise this option. I’m assuming that he doesn’t want to lose his motor skills. Certainly, nothing we’ve seen up to now would indicate that the brain damage would make much of a difference.
Spider, hoping to persuade Johnny to go forward with the operation, finally spills the beans. (This is it! Finally! Get ready for a Big Surprise!!) It’s turns out that the data in Johnny’s head isâ€¦no, smartass. It’s not the cure for NAS. It’sâ€¦oh. Yes. It’s the cure for NAS. Well. Aren’t we clever. Bravo for you. [mumble mumble lucky guessing little bastards mumble mumble]
See, Pharmacom’s somehow developed a cure for NAS. That’s what the late Pharmacom scientists stole, and gave to Johnny to smuggle into the states. (Because that was easier than spamming it all over the Web, I guess, so that everybody would have it.) Pharmacom wants it back at all costs, becauseâ€¦
OK, get ready for this. (It’s great to see new stupidities rear their heads this late in the movie.) Your natural inclination would be to think that Pharmacom wants the cure back so that they could market it at some ungodly sum in order to generate huge profits. (Gasp! A Pharmaceutical company developing a cure and then turning a profit from it! Heaven Forfend!!)
Now, c’mon. First of all, we’ve been told (if not shown) that ‘half the world’ has NAS. Given this scale of economics, Pharmacom could reap the largest profits in history with an extremely low markup. In the process, they would also reap the greatest PR in the history of the Planet. Imagine a company coming out with a cure for cancer. Hell, even the common cold. Imagine the money and goodwill they’d accrue.
The filmmakers seem to realize that a heroic quest to keep a corporation from profiting by eradicating a horrible plague doesn’t exactly have that oomph! necessary to engage the audience. So they tell us instead that they can’t allow Pharmacom to get back the cure because then they’dâ€¦sit on it. For as Spider rather unconvincingly explains, “You keep that thing in your head and nobody can save you. Plus, the cure is gone forever.”
Huh?!! What?!! Why would the cure be ‘gone forever?’ Are we to believe that Pharmacom is going to hide it away somewhere, or even destroy it, presumably because they’re an Evil Corporation?! Good Lord, Karl Marx wouldn’t try to get that one by us! I mean, why the hell did they go to the trouble to develop it then?
As already noted, even the idea that Pharmacom would keep the cure tightly restricted, in order to squeeze huge sums of money from desperate Fat Cats, makes no sense. I mean, we keep hearing about how many people have NAS. Even a Hollywood screenwriter should be able to figure out that Companies profit more by taking a little dough from a huge number of people than a lot of dough from a small number of people. Why do they think Tom Cruise makes $20 million a picture? Because he can get tens of millions of people to fork over seven or eight bucks apiece. Not because he gets one hundred Bill Gates-types to fork over a million bucks each.
Still, the ‘only sell to the rich’ explanation is brilliant compared to what they’re trying to feed us here. How can we possibly buy it? Admittedly, there’s been some extremely vague thread throughout the film that Pharmacom is somehow profiting from making people sick. But, of course, that’s utterly ridiculous. The only way that they could make money from causing people to become ill would be to market a cure! So we’re back where we started.
Ah, screw it. Anyway, in what I assume is an attempt to distract us from all that, the movie now plays Johnny as a total dickhead. First he asks why he should care if the cure disappears, if he’s going to be dead anyway. Then he notes that whatever’s in his head is worth lots of money. (To who? The guys who are going to give it away for free, or the Evil Corporation that’s going to make it disappear?) Therefore, why should he trust Spider?
I think that they’re trying, not so much to make Johnny utterly unlikable (too late!), as ‘realistic.’ After all, we’re all sophisticated people, right? So, c’mon! Who’s going to sacrifice himself purely because he’s probably going to die anyway and would in the process save (at least) millions of lives. Sure, buddy! Yeah, what, is Johnny some kind of goody two-shoes boy scout or something? Ha, ha! We’re all cynical, in the know people, too worldly wise to buy into that ‘hero’ crap, right? Who wouldn’t consider their life more important than that of millions of strangers!
(In an extremely gross way, I think that they’re trying to emulate Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine character from Casablanca. [Remember that Bogart already has made a 'cameo' here.] Blain starts the film a callous sort, remarking that he doesn’t “stick my neck out for anyone.” By the film’s end, however, he’s rejoined the Good Fight against the Nazis. Even the mere possibility that they might possibly be trying to equate Johnny with that classic character makes me want to barf.)
So Johnny makes to leave, Spider tells him he’s not going anywhere, and in an extremely unshocking shock moment, a gurney with a corpse on it comes bursting into the room. The body has Street Preacher’s crucifix/dagger sticking out of it, so Action Ahoy! (yawn) SP tosses everyone around a bit, then the threesome has him down on the floor.
Spider jumps on the guy, who appears pretty vulnerable, and tells Jane and Johnny to take off. “It’s your only chance!” This, of course, ensures Spider’s death, and provides Johnny with a no doubt soul-changing example of personal sacrifice. As they run off, Spider yells for them to get to “Jones.” (Wow, first the juicy ‘Allcome’ enigma gets solved, then we get a whole other mystery character! What a bounty of riches!)
We now get some extremely charming footage of SP torturing Spider for information. Then we cut to Jane and Johnny in Spider’s truck. They’re driving towards ‘Heaven,’ the extremely conspicuous Secret Headquarters of the LoTeks. In case I didn’t properly describe it before, this is a section of a landlocked, derelict suspension bridge. To boot, it’s all lit up with lights in such a fashion that it can be seen for miles.
Johnny is back on the line with Pharmacom’s security guy, who turns out to be a hologram manipulated by Takahashi. Johnny tells him to meet him on the bridge. (Which means that Johnny has just divulged the location of the LoTek rebellion to the Yakuza. This is never adequately dealt with.) Apparently, Johnny has some cool neat-o plan going. Jane, to make sure that the audience doesn’t miss the obvious, notes that J-Bone won’t like this at all.
Meanwhile, back to Takahashi’s Office. Electronic Ghost Woman appears on his monitor, trying to get him to act in such a way as to ensure his tragic albeit heroic and ultimately redeeming death. Takahashi angrily deactivates his computer, not wanting to reform until the last possible minute, the better to milk all possible suspense and pathos from his actions.
Jane and Johnny drive up to the base of the bridge. Just in case the arrival of their giant truck with its multiple blazing headlights didn’t alert the guards of this well-guarded citadel, Johnny honks the horn. (It still seems to me that a secret rebel underground of computer hackers would operate better in, say, small Communist style ‘cells’ rather than being congregated in a single location. But what do I know?)
Since this has apparently failed to get anyone’s attention, Johnny starts yelling “Hey!” It should be noted that Reeves manages to actually act here like someone yelling “Hey!” Go ahead and scoff, but Lundgren couldn’t yell “Halt, sinners!” without sounding extremely phony, so it’s not a gimme. I mean, let’s be fair and give Reeves whatever credit he deserves.
We cut to the ‘guards,’ one of which carries on a very unfunny ‘comic relief’ monologue about some girl he wants to hook up with. Downstairs, Johnny gets tired of yelling and gives up for a bit. He asks Jane what she thinks about the whole ‘I’ve got the cure for NAS in my head’ thing. He’s obviously (and I mean obviously – we’re talking Keanu Reeves acting this out, after all) starting to wonder about whether he should make an effort to save those millions of people. As Jane watches this moral butterfly emerging from his cocoon, her gaze bespeaks of newfound respect, and even, perhaps (dare I say it?) a dawning love?
Johnny asks her about this Jones they’re looking for. Jane answers in an evasive way that telegraphs that Jones’ identity will be some kind of ‘neat-o’ surprise. (Like the identity of the Leader of the Rebel Mutants in Total Recall, only not as clever or cool.)
“He was in the Navy,” she elliptically answers. “In the War.” [Wow! A throwaway backstory reference! It makes their world seem realer somehow, doesn't it?] “They put a lot of stuff in his head, kinda like you.” Man, you know you’re watching a Science Fiction film when someone implies that Keanu Reeves ‘has a lot of stuff in his head.’
Still hoping to attract the attention of the guards, Johnny picks up some garbage can lids and performs a one man ‘Stomp’ impression. Hmm. I wouldn’t really say that Keanu Reeves noisily bashing trashcan lids together in a desperate attempt to gain the notice of uninterested viewers is a metaphor for his career. Just that the thought kind of crossed my mind.
The woefully unfunny comic relief guards finally look down and recognize Spider’s truck. Then, in a bit of truly epic stupidity, one that I can only imagine was meant to incur audience laughter, one of the wacky guards slips and accidentally throws a lever. This releases a derelict Volkswagen Bug that bursts into flames as it falls. Presumably, this some sort of defense mechanism that they use on potential invaders. Johnny grabs the totally unaware Super-Augmented Reflexes Chick and jumps to safety as the Bug crashes into Spider’s truck, obliterating it.
Reeves now has his Oscar Clipâ„¢ moment, reciting a speech that reinforces (unfortunately) the whole Johnny-as-Rick-Blaine thing. It’s also one of the most ridiculous monologues in cinema history. (See IMMORTAL DIALOG.) Keanu doesn’t help things, either, popping his eyes and waving his arms around like an old-style Catskill comedian.
He finally finishes up, exhausted. Amazingly, although the entire speech makes him sound like a colossal jerk, Jane apparently ends up all the more attracted to him. Then, just when it’s too late to do any good (since we’ve already sat through Johnny’s whole speech), J-Bone is lowered down from the bridge on a motorized platform.
Jane informs J-Bone that Spider is dead, but that he instructed them to hitch up with Jones. Since it’s was Spider’s idea, J-Bone agrees, and the threesome is soon whisked up to the bridge. Not, however, before Johnny has one of his little attacks, so that he be saved at the very last ‘dramatic’ moment. (Maybe because this film just seems to go on and on and on, the viewer gets the feeling that Johnny should have been dead already. But no, all this is supposed to have taken place in the two days since the data download.)
Now we get a good look at ‘Heaven,’ J-Bones’ community. It’s designed to look like a ship from a pirate movie, with lots of ropes and such strewn about. Also like a ship in a pirate movie, it has sides to fall off while shrieking “Aiiieeee!” I assume that these will be utilized for the upcoming and inevitable ‘repel the invasion’ scene. If this is as masterful as the film’s ability to repel its audience, it should be something to watch.
Takahashi’s in his office. He’s collecting a .44 magnum revolver and a (groan!) samurai sword in an ivory sheath (hey, did I mention that he’s Japanese?). He tells his secretary to have Laser Wire Guy meet him at the bridge, then heads up to a waiting helicopter.
Meanwhile, a dozing Johnny’s close to having his meltdown, which for some reason triggers fleeting images of his childhood. (Whatever.) Jane, still inexplicably worried for the big lug, snuggles up to him and wakes him up. Johnny relates how he almost had a memory. Meanwhile, Jane is stroking his face, leading up to the inescapable (*yuck*) kissing scene. This is fully as unpalatable as the Christopher Lambert/Virginia Madsen smooch session in Highlander II.
Apparently, J-Bone is as nauseated by this as we are, heroically interrupting this gagfest before mass audience suicides occur (assuming that this film ever had an audience large enough to engage in ‘mass’ anything). This thoughtful action easily makes him my favorite character in the picture. He announces that it’s time to meet Jones. By which he probably means, ‘there’s only twenty minutes of this movie left, and it’s time to wrap up some plot threads before the climatic action.’
What really puts this film in the Jabootu Major Leagues is the way it keeps the idiocy coming hot and heavy. Usually, by this point in the film, these reviews start clipping along. That’s because the last twenty minutes or so is often just escalating action leading up to the finish. So while early in a review a page of text might only cover one or two minutes of screentime, at this point it might well cover five minutes or more. I mean, how much verbiage can you expend dissecting the hero running around and shooting people, or engaging in a climatic sword fight, or in describing mutant animal-men revolting against their creator?
Not here, though, not in Johnny Mnemonic. With just over twenty minutes left, we still have one majorly huge, laughable, ludicrous plot ‘surprise’ to unravel. That, of course, is the identity of the mysterious Jones. So J-Bones takes our protagonists on a guided tour of Heaven, explaining how they “fight the System”, yada yada. (Amazingly, the phrase ‘taking it to The Man’ is never used.)
A last big door opens and we see the “heart and soul” of Heaven. There’s a huge, silly tower of TV monitors (we have to assume that these aren’t security monitors, given Johnny’s difficulty in gaining their attention, so what they’re for remains a mystery), some miscellaneous gear, and an industrial size aquarium tank. (I suppose that this is supposed to tie back in some lame fashion to the fish tank in the Hotel lobby, earlier in the movie.)
There ensues an extremely difficult to follow (perhaps because by now we couldn’t care less) ‘explanation’ of how the LoTeks pirate TV signals and use them to covertly broadcast data of use to The People, yada yada. Jones, we learn, is the technical mastermind behind this operation. (Does anyone other than me not find any of this particularly ‘LoTek’?)
So, to cut an extremely stupid story short, Johnny meets Jones, who turns out to be, not a dolphin augmented by the Navy, but a really bad muppet of a dolphin who’s been augmented by the Navy. Yep. A dolphin. Because, you know, they’re so smart. And this one’s augmented, to boot. I mean, Flipper was so intelligent that “no one you see, is smarter than he.” And he wasn’t even augmented.
You really have to be watching this to get the full effect of just what a fiasco it is. First, the ‘groovy’ idea of the super-intelligent dolphin seems like something that hippies would come up with after hours spent sucking on a bong. To actually see it in the flesh just makes concrete how stupid the concept really is.
And that’s if we were, in fact, seeing it in the flesh. Instead, we’re obviously seeing it in the latex. The comically inept ‘dolphin’ prop seen here just adds a level of low farce to what was already intellectually specious anyway. The fact that this is supposed to be the film’s ultimate blowout plot twist breaks the final straw. Imagine Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Now imagine watching the entire film, only to see them use one of Ed Wood’s pie-tins-on-a-string for the climatic Mothership sequence. That’s about how well ‘Jones’ delivers on his promise.
Johnny calls the dolphin a ‘fish’ and gets zapped with some sort of sonic beam by the touchy aquatic mammal. Boy, I hope it never reads my description of it. Johnny has a hard time buying that this thing is going to be of any help (and I’m with you there, bucko). So J-Bones lectures him a bit. “Jones is set up to sample software from enemy subs. Infra-Sound scan. Right through the hull.” Which, if I’m not mistaken, means that Jones has the same abilities as The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
We cut to some limos approaching the bridge. LWG and a bunch of his hoods have arrived. They unlimber a bunch of rocket launchers and proceed forward. OK, if they’re just going to destroy the place (and Johnny in the process), wouldn’t missile bearing helicopters serve better? Meanwhile, if their intention is to raid Heaven and capture Johnny’s head intact, is it really a smart idea to issue them rocket launchers? I think I’d want weaponry that was a tad more precision oriented.
Back in the Heart & Soul of Heaven, a chair with a wire-laden headset lowers from the ceiling. Which is, of course, exactly where I keep my chair with the wire-laden headset. Johnny bitches about how dangerous this could be to him. This attempt as ‘suspense’ is truly annoying. First of all, like anyone in the audience has the tiniest bit of doubt that Johnny’s going to come through this all right. Second, at this point anyone still watching the movie would positively love to see Johnny’s head explode into a million pieces. In any case, the “Is This the End of Our Hero?” bit ain’t working.
Johnny begins to walk away rather than risk it. Good Lord, get on with it, would you?! How could he even consider doing that? It’s not as if he’s struggling to decide whether to risk his life to help all the NAS victims. He’s due to croak any minute now anyway, and this procedure is the only chance he’s got to come out of this alive. If the filmmakers wanted this moment to be fraught with ‘tension,’ they should have removed the threat to his life. Then the issue would be whether he’d gamble his hard won safety for the sake of all those others. As written, there’s no possibility of a moral choice; instead, it’s the only choice he can possibly make.
So Johnny decides (duh) to go forward, handing J-Bone that portion of the download code that he possesses. Meanwhile, the Yakuza goon squad is still marching around the base of the bridge. They finally stop and use those rifles that fire cord-attached bolts (standard equipment for all movie thieves and super-spies), which after imbedding themselves in the understructure of the bridge begin to mechanically haul the user up. Again, this all occurs without anyone upstairs noticing. Man, this place is more impregnable than The Guns of Navarone!
Johnny’s process finally, finally, begins. Lights in his facemask strobe on and off, and he grits his teeth to show how onerous his ordeal is. I know how he feels. I’ve been gritting my teeth in the same fashion for roughly an hour and ten minutes now.
Meanwhile, J-Bone orders his flunkies to “Send up the broadcast antennas!” Why? I don’t know. Again, if the idea is that now they’re going to broadcast the NAS cure around the world so that it can’t be suppressed, then why didn’t the original guys just spam it all over the Internet? (I know, I know, because then we wouldn’t have had a movie. But it’s exactly because the solution was so obvious that we shouldn’t have had a movie.)
Upstairs, Takahashi is arriving in his helicopter. So all of our main characters are now here. Except for Street Preacher, who will show up after all the other villains have been eliminated for a last ‘shock’ confrontation. Or so I’m guessing. (Of course, this is the very definition of an ‘educated’ guess.)
Meanwhile, LWG is stealthily leading his goons through the complex, literally cutting through J-Bone’s moronic crew as if they were butter. However, they kill Doofus Guy (the one who accidentally dropped the car/bomb on Spider’s truck) in such a manner so that he again (!) falls on a lever and releases yet another incendiary car. This falls on one of the Yakuza ground guards, even though he had more than ample time to get out of its way.
Irate, the remaining ground guard, in an awesomely stupid bit, grabs a rocket launcher and angrily fires a shell into the bridge. This, with the rest of her crew up there! This seems, to say the least, counterproductive.
At this, J-Bone finally figures out that they’re under attack (assuming that the invading forces weren’t wiped out by that rocket). Now the cross cutting starts to get fast and obnoxious. We see Johnny’s face. We see the VR representation of Jones looking for the rest of the download code. We see the woman guard on the ground continue to fire rockets into the bridge (!!!).
Some equipment gets damaged in the blast, and Johnny learns that Jones hadn’t discovered the code yet. There’s only one chance left. “The only way left is to [computer] hack your own brain,” J-Bones explains, “and then loop it to Jones.” Or, I suppose, he could modulate the phase variance. Or click his heels together three times and repeat “There’s no place like home.” Whatever, man. Let’s just get this thing wrapped up. I’ll even believe in fairies and clap my hands if that’s what it takes.
J-Bone grabs a crossbow (!) and runs out to join the fight. Meanwhile, Rocket Chick is firing yet another shell into the bridge. Then, as if the stupidity quotient wasn’t high enough, J-Bone sights her from the top of the bridge (they show his perspective and majorly cheat on it, making it appear that he’s much closer to her than he would be), aims for a second, and fires an arrow straight into her open mouth!
Johnny and Jane are alone in the main room when Takahashi appears. He fires at Jane five times, but she escapes. Presumably, we’re to believe that her super-reflexes saved her. However, we saw her move in a rather un-super fashion, and our actual impression is that he is just a terrible shot. Left alone with Johnny, he unsheaves his sword, looking to give Johnny a very short haircut. (Actually, I don’t have a problem with that.)
Suddenly, right before he kills Johnny, Electronic Ghost Woman hugely appears on the tower of monitors. (Talk about Dues Ex Machina!) Cripes, this movie is overstuffed. I’d just about forgotten her! Anyway, she informs him that Johnny’s carrying the cure for NAS, then notes that “Your daughter died to protect Pharmacom’s profit margins.”
Presumably, this means that the kid died of NAS, although this is the first we heard of it. As far as we’re concerned, this is completely out of left field. This film definitely leaves you with the impression that it was originally much longer (Saints preserve us!) and that much exposition was left on the cutting room floor.
Now we finally learn why Pharmacom wants to destroy the cure. “Treating the disease is far more profitable than curing it!” Even if you buy that (and I refuse to, it’s just too stupid), it doesn’t explain why Pharmacom spent all the money to come up with the cure in the first place. It obviously wasn’t to protect themselves from the plague, because then Takahashi would have had access to it and could have saved his daughter. Maybe they’re just so Evil that they wanted a cure to exist solely so that they could have the pleasure of suppressing it. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Takahashi approaches Johnny, but we never learn what he’s thinking, because he gets shot in the back by Laser Wire Guy. In fact, he’s shot five times, at close range, yet he still gets to turn around and gasp his killer’s name. Man, that dude’s tough.
As a bonus, this short shot features one of my favorite, utterly idiotic ‘gunshot’ bugaboos: Squibs are wee explosives that are detonated under clothing to similate an actor being shot. They also are used to blow open sacs of stage blood to create a bleeding effect. Here, we see squibs detonated on actor Takeshi’s back.
Yet, for a ‘cool’ effect, we also see squibs detonated on his chest. These, clearly, must represent exit wounds – the initial squib indicates the bullet entering his back, followed by a chest squib to indicate the bullet having punched completely through his torso. Neat-o keen, huh!
The only problem is that Johnny is standing directly in front of him! That means that the bullets, having passed through Takahashi, would end up shredding our hero like cheese. Yet, Johnny just stands there, completely unharmed! This is grade-A Jabootu material. I mean, there is just no excuse for that level of stupidity. Especially in a multi-million dollar professional production.
OK, time to ‘fess up. I guess I was wrong about Takahashi reforming and dying a tragic yet heroic death. Of course, the reason you’re so sure that the clichÃ© is going to pan out is because the alternative is often so much stupider. Killing Takahashi at this juncture means that he had literally no effect on the movie whatsoever. No action of his at any point had any consequence that affected any other character. He could have been removed completely and nothing would have been effected.
In fact, if you remove him, then you could also remove Electronic Ghost Woman. After all, the only thing she did was distract Takahashi long enough for him to get killed before he killed Johnny. The only person she effected failed to effect anyone else. Therefore, her presence is as pointless as his was. That means that the film could have eliminated two entirely useless subplots, streamlining the story and making it easier to follow. Surely, it must have been the malign influence of Jabootu himself that ensured their presence here.
Laser Wire Guy gloats a little at Johnny, then steps aside to show a guard holding Bad Ass Super Reflexes Jane. Apparently, LWG isn’t up on the rules for Bad Guys. First of all, no villain equipped with a bizarre signature weapon is allowed to use something as prosaic as a gun. Second, the girlfriend-as-hostage shouldn’t be used against the hero until he’s otherwise beaten the villain. Here, LWG already has the unarmed Johnny at bay. Rolling out the captured Jane here is merely gaudy.
LWG unsheathes his Laser Wire and prepares to decapitate Johnny. (Not that I have a problem with that.) However, remember the guard, the one who’s holding a gun to Jane’s head? Well, for some reason he lets her angle her torso away from him, which then allows her to swing her elbow into his gut. At this point, he folds up like an umbrella. (You have to use slo-mo to see all this.)
Two problems: One, if she actually did this to someone holding a gun on her, he’d tense up when struck and blow her head off. Second of all, she strikes him in the gut, alright, but he’s wearing a full upper body bullet-proof vest! Which are designed, after all, to absorb and distribute kinetic energy. I find it hard to believe, therefore, that her blow could possibly have had such an effect on him.
Editing is used here to disguise the fact that LWG, standing along side Jane when she attacks her captor, has plenty of time to slice her into a deli tray. Instead, both she and Johnny somehow get outside the radius of his Wire. (Remember when LWG brought a single guard to the Techno-Opera Club, and Johnny and Jane got away? Guess he’s a slow learner.)
Johnny grabs a steel pipe and goes after LWG. LWG slices cleanly through it (although why he doesn’t take out Johnny’s legs isn’t clear), making the earlier scene where he couldn’t cut through a chain link gate all the sillier. LWG then again grabs his gun. I don’t know why, though, considering what a poor shot he is. I mean, he misses Johnny three times at close range. Just as Takahashi missed Jane five times at close range. J-Bone, however, can shoot a woman dressed in black, at night, with a crossbow, directly in the mouth from a hundred yards or more. Whatever.
Jane isn’t helping because she’s still, improbably, beating up on the guard (actually, it’s the other way around: she’s still beating up the guard to explain why she’s not helping Johnny). Meanwhile, LWG is such a clod that he allows Johnny to swing a cargo net full of stuff right into him. Meanwhile, the battle between the LoTeks and the Yakuza stills rages. Well, pouts, anyway.
Johnny runs out onto the bridge area, amidst falling beams, with LWG in pursuit. LWG catches up and again readies his Laser Wire. Johnny, because he’s the hero, is given the additional handicap of standing on a wooden plank bridge that (for absolutely no reason) is so weak his foot keeps going through it.
LWG swings at Johnny, somehow missing him. (Ever notice how Bad Guys, when using bladed weapons, always swing at the top of the hero’s head rather than his middle section, so that he can more easily duck the attack?) At this the bridge collapses (for no apparent reason) and the two fall to a lower floor.
They end up falling into a truck, one of the ones designed to be dropped on any besieging enemies. (Oddly, these prepared defenses are never utilized during the current attack.) The truck tips, a rear door springs opens, and Johnny only fails to fall to his death because he grabs (that’s right) some cargo netting. His arm is then grabbed by LWG, who’s resting on the door that’s still closed.
Johnny, in his best moment, actually figures something out. “If I fall, you don’t get the head, right?” Then he characteristically throws a naughty word at LWG, who reacts violently enough (not really, but it’s in the script) that the other door then falls open. Sure enough, LWG ends up dangling alongside Johnny.
Johnny, finally having LWG at a disadvantage, starts kicking at him (like some kind of a damn girl). LWG fights back, but of course he’s screwed if he loses Johnny’s head. Johnny lunges for LWG’s thumb sheath, while LWG tries to hold him back. Johnny, needless to say, wins the struggle and withdraws the wire, wraps it around his foe’s head, and zip. Wow! LWG meant to cut off Johnny’s head, only Johnny cut his head off instead! And with his own signature weapon, to boot!! Boy, the irony, huh?
Oh, and as LWG and his head fall into the waters below (and as Johnny somehow evades the flailing Laser Wire), out of nowhere comes another of those flaming trucks. This lands on top of LWG’s corpse as it hits below. Considering that the guy’s head was off, this seems to me to be sort of an overkill kind of thing. Literally. Still, at least LWG won’t be pulling one of those “I’m not really dead!” attacks out of nowhere. No, I’m sure they’ll save that for Street Preacher, who should be along any minute now.
Back in the dolphin room, Jane is getting off the floor. (Why?) Looking up, she’s startled to see Street Preacher (told ya!) standing over her. He begins strangling her, and then we cut away to more pointless Yakuza/LoTek fighting. Then we see Johnny emerge from the truck, to find (I swear!) the wounded (“I’m not really dead!”) Takahashi waiting for him, sword in hand. This, after we saw five (five!) bullets rip right through his chest. You know, I almost didn’t buy this until I saw a little blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. This is the filmmakers’ sign that having his chest blown off in fact banged him up pretty good.
He puts the sword to Johnny’s neck, but this is only to tease the audience. So after we supposedly gasp ‘Oh, no, he’s going to kill Johnny! NOOO!!!’, he drops the sword and hands Johnny the other piece of the download code. Thus does he redeem himself before dying a tragic yet heroicâ€¦well, you know.
Back to Jane, who’s still battling Street Preacher. Of course, he’s wiped out everyone in the movie much more quickly. However, as the Girlfriend, Jane is extended usage of the Hero Death Battle Exemptionâ„¢. This stipulates that it will take at least ten times longer to kill the Hero (or his Girlfriend) than anyone else in the film.
In a truly tasteless scene, we see that Street Preacher is pursuing what is apparently meant to be his signature bit, that of crucifying his victims. He uses one of Jane’s throwing spikes to nail one hand to the wall, then begins to do the other. However, he (of course) pauses to enjoy the moment, allowing Johnny to leap out of nowhere and knock him over.
Street Preacher, being about 6′ 8″ and bionic and all, quickly has Johnny on the ropes. Out comes the crucifix dagger, and â€¦Jane, who’s freed herself, manipulates Jones the Dolphin’s sonar dish. Street Preacher up getting zapped, to tediously gory effect. However, that’s not enough, apparently. (After all, he’s not just a sadistic murderer, but a religious nut as well.) So then Johnny pushes some electrical leads at him, and he’s electrocuted between two masses of wires. This, with in arms outstretched at his sides, which I can only (painfully) assume is meant to be an ‘ironic’ recreation of the Crucifixion.
J-Bone and his crew enter, now that all the work’s been done. Johnny gives him the second image, and they restart the cyber-search for the third image. (Unbelievably, after all the gunfire and carnage in this room, we’re to believe that all the vital equipment is undamaged.) Electronic Ghost Woman comes back for one more expository bit, telling Johnny, “The dolphin can take you into the data. Find the third image!!”
In a truly silly touch, all the more so because it’s meant to tug at our heartstrings, we see digitized flames over EGW’s image. Apparently, Pharmacom has sent in a virus to ‘burn’ her out of their mainframes. Here’s what I don’t understand. We were told that she has Swiss citizenship under their AI laws. So why haven’t the Swiss built a data-store for their AI citizens, where their programs would be free from attack? Here’s why: So that we could have one last heartrending sacrifice before the movie ended. Sob. I’ll never forgot you, Electronic Ghost Woman!
OK, so Johnny was almost killed by Takahashi. Then he was almost killed by Laser Wire Guy. Then he was almost killed by Street Preacher. All in the last ten minutes. Now, as if we haven’t had enough ‘climaxes,’ J-Bones warns Johnny that Pharmacom may have killer viruses in the data-stream, so he’d better watch out. Frankly, I really hope this is the last deadly hazard he faces. They’re getting to be unbearably dull.
Also, this virus bit finally, finally, ties all the way back to the opening crawl, as if anyone watching the film remembers that far back. Remember, they mentioned Black Ice, defined as ‘lethal viruses waiting to burn the brains of intruders.’ Here, an hour and a half later, this info finally comes into play.
As dramatic music plays, Jane and J-Bone ready Johnny for the hook-up. Jane holds his hand one last time, while J-Bone warns the world over the LoTek satellite system that the cure for NAS is coming their way. Then Johnny enters the data-stream as a CGI, or computer generated image (i.e., a cartoon).
And yes, this is all mighty confusing. Therefore, J-Bone is given a monitor on which to watch the VR field, which allows him to throw out nuggets of exposition to the audience. For instance, when the Virus makes its appearance, CGI Johnny produces a mirror image of itself. “He’s doubling himself,” J-Bone notes. Thanks, Exposition Man!
See, the Virus destroys one of him, but there’s still the other him left. Get it? (I ‘got’ it. A tremendous headache.) Next, a CGI Jones cartoon enters the data-stream with CGI Johnny. Then Johnny loops his mind through the Jones cartoon (and no, I have no idea what that means) and finds the third image, which proves to be the face of Electronic Ghost Woman. Gee. How Poetic.
With this, the code is complete, and Johnny begins to download the data into the waiting broadcast system. We see some more computer graphics to represent this. Then we see the standard ‘people watching joyfully all around the globe’ sequence. Oddly, Reeves’ Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey ended much the same way, with him broadcasting a transmission that makes the world a better place. The main difference being that that movie didn’t suck.
Then, in another scene that makes absolutely no sense, Johnny now regains his childhood memories. I’m not even going to point out the problems with this. I’m just too tired. (However, I will note the lame ‘artistic’ touch of there being twin blonde girls in his memories – just like the twins in the hotel lobby at the beginning of the movie. Wow. Mr. Longo, Federico Fellini has nothing on you, dude!)
It’s Johnny’s seventh birthday party, and we even briefly see his mom. Now, I’m not sure if I’m right, but I think his mom is the woman who becomes Electronic Ghost Woman. If so, it wouldn’t surprise me. It seems like the sort of ridiculous thing they’d throw in here to ‘tie’ the movie together. Despite that fact that it would make no sense whatsoever.
Johnny slumps over in his chair, as if dead. (Actually, I don’t have a problem with that.) Jane, concerned, runs over. But, sadly, Johnny’s not dead after all. They embrace. Meanwhile, in the distance, Pharmacom’s American Headquarters is steadily burning. (Someone got that giant skyscraper lit up in the rough one minute since the broadcast went out? And how did they get just the top floor on fire? Wow, arson’s really gotten better in the future!)
Then, in a ‘shock’ cut, we see Street Preacher’s mechanical skeleton start to move. This, however, is only a joke playing off our expectations – it’s really just J-Bone’s crew removing the body. Ha ha. You know, this might actually have been funny, if the movie hadn’t drained all of our entertainment cells. Then, finally, the last shot, of a smiling Johnny and Jane standing against a matte shot of the burning Pharmacom building.
At last. We can all relax and get this sh*t out of our heads.
In his review of The Beast (qv), Douglas broached the concept of the Designated Heroâ„¢. The Designated Hero occupies his role by default, and because we’re told that he’s the hero (similar to the Informed Attributeâ„¢), rather than by his own intrinsic actions. Johnny is the perfect example of this phenomenon. He’s never less than utterly self-absorbed. He constantly whines to other people that they’re not doing enough to solve his problems. He informs the Yakuza of the location of LoTek Headquarters. He prepares to abandon Jane when she gets sick, after she’s saved his life more than once. And, finally, he never, at any point in the picture, places a higher value on the information in his head, which could save millions, than on his own life. In this context, Jane’s affection for him doesn’t seem redeeming; rather, it makes her look like one of those women who are most attracted to the guys who will care for them the least in return. Looked at in this context, our two leads are a major league dickwad and a doormat.
In a pretty good example of just how well written all the movie’s dialog is, Johnny reveals his rapier wit whilst asking Jane if he can borrow her phone card:
Jane, bemused: “Man owes me fifty thou and he’s scamming my phone card!”
Johnny the Wit: “It’s still our first date!”
With time running out before the inevitable ‘action’ finale, Reeves finally gets his Actor’s Moment. Here he recites a monologue that’s sure to become a classic in those books of dramatic speeches that aspiring actors buy to hone their craft. In time, it’ll assume its rightful place, up there with that “I could have been a contender” spiel from On the Waterfront:
Johnny: “You know, all my life I’ve been careful to stay in my own corner. Looking out for Number One. No complications. Now, suddenly, I’m responsible for the entire [expletive] world! And everybody and his Mother is trying to kill me, IF, IF, my head doesn’t blow up first!”
Jane, disgusted: “Maybe it’s not just about you anymore.”
Enraged Johnny, eyes popping and the whole nine yards: “Listen! You listen to me! See that city over there [New York]?! That’s where I’m supposed to be! Not down here with the dogs and the garbage and the [expletive] last month’s newspapers blowing back and forth!! I’ve had it with them!! [Starts getting louder.] I’ve had it with you!! I’ve had it with all this!! Iâ€¦WANTâ€¦ROOM SERVICE!!! I want the club sandwich!! I want the cold Mexican beer!! I want a ten thousand dollar a night hooker!! [Calms down, futilely straightening his ruined clothes. He continues quietly, with exaggerated dignity.] I want my shirts laundered. Like they do at the Imperial Hotel. In Tokyo.” [Slumps down, emotionally spent.]