Johnny Mnemonic: Art Stars and Moviemaking

Johnny Mnemonic: Art Stars and Moviemaking

The nineties saw the culmination of a few things; the art star as multimedia phenom, punk and electronics. It was during this decade in which art stars who made millions during the eighties earned the chance to direct a few major motion pictures. Most successful was Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat. But Robert Longo had a go of it as well.

Additionally, punk as run through Seattle, finally impacted the airwaves at about the same time everyone wound up at least having access to a computer of some variety – in the library, at school or otherwise.

The confluence of these things went into a brief cyber punk movement that didn’t amount to all that much apart from spawning a few movies and maybe ushering in another wave of synth punk a few years off into the future. But between Hackers, as released in 1995 and Johnny Mnemonic, released a few months earlier, all these disparate cultural things became one.

In part as a result of his paintings and drawings detailing the dancing of James Chance and his cohort, Robert Longo wound up being a huge name in New York – and a millionaire. One of those things, or maybe both, wound up landing the guy a chance to direct a film based on a William Gibson short story.

Johnny Mnemonic’s plot might be a bit thin – as is the acting talent wrangled for the project – but there’re so many surprising appearances that the film winds up being relatively entertaining to watch even if it’s something of a bummer.

First off, though, Reeves in the title role is dressed exactly like any number of Longo’s late seventies dancers. And it’d be interesting to know if the actor was aware of that. Even if he wasn’t, though, the fact that he fights a Dolph Lundgren attired to look like Moses, meets Henry Rollins, who portrays an underground doctor and surgeon, and befriends a futuristic version of Ice T almost makes the film a classic. But it’s not.

Instead, all the cyber punk fair one might imagine just gets lumped together amidst some really strikingly bad acting. Rollins might take the cake in his few sparse scenes as he rails against what the world’s become. But really, everyone’s guilty. And the thing that probably did the film in, while making Basquiat a success, is that it was an action film. There’s really no reason a painter should know how to direct one of those things.