Despite Devices and Keanu, 'Mnemonic' Is Forgettable

Lynn Smith, whose dictionary notes that "mnemonic" means "helping, or intending to help, the memory," is a staff writer for The Times' Life & Style section.

In "Johnny Mnemonic," a 21st-Century courier (Keanu Reeves) learns that his head is overloaded with data and that he must download or die. (Rated R)


Producers promised to take them on a "wild ride down the dark side of the information highway," but most thriller-friendly kids had found watching a rickety old bus careening around the freeways of Los Angeles more entertaining.

Even tekkies such as Daniel Fallou, 14, and Trung Doan, 13, said they preferred Keanu Reeves in his low-tech role in the bus thriller "Speed" to his button-down Johnny, a young man who has dumped his long-term memory in order to carry around massive amounts of priceless data.

"On the commercials, it looked good," Trung said.

But in the end, both boys were disappointed and agreed it wasn't worth much more than a C-plus.

"There wasn't a lot of action in it," Trung said, "not for me."

However, there is an abundance of violence in "Johnny Mnemonic," and the plot is so overloaded that it could have used some downloading too.

The tale, based on a short story by cyperpunk author William F. Gibson, revolves around Johnny, who realizes that he has used up his 320 gigabytes of storage and that his implant is seeping. As a result, he needs to find secret access codes that will allow him to get online and download.

He is chased by an army of professional killers, some of whom are his own clients and others who are members of the world's most powerful crime syndicate. One of the killers hires a bounty hunter to literally bring him Johnny's head--cryogenically preserved.

Along the way, Johnny is helped by Jane, some sort of security guard suffering from information overload known as "the black shakes," Spider, an old-fashioned doctor known as a "flesh mechanic," and a dolphin.

Some of the many special effects were fun, the boys agreed.

"I liked the part when he was calling Beijing on the phone with virtual reality," Daniel said.

On the other hand, "some of it didn't make any sense," Daniel said. "It's kinda hard to fill up 320 gigabytes," which are equivalent to the information contained in more than 1,000 Encyclopaedia Britannicas.

In addition, the movie was dark, bleak and bloody. Some kids might be hoping the information highway will take them somewhere more pleasant.

"It made the future look too bad," Daniel said, "like everybody's going to die or something."

Out in cyperspace, the reaction was similarly dim. One viewer, age unknown, wrote into his bulletin board that the theater was full of people enthusiastically waiting for the movie to begin.

"When the movie ended, the crowd was leaving silently. One guy said, 'So what's the second worst movie you've ever seen?' The whole crowd laughed."

In the end, it seemed to Daniel and Trung like a lot of sound and fury signifying mostly, well, sound and fury. They didn't even learn what the word mnemonic means.

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