Robert Longo (USA, 1953) first became famous for his drawings and music videos.
He debuted as a film director with
Johnny Mnemonic (1995), a cyberpunk thriller loosely based on a William Gibson story of 1981.
The "thriller" part is not that great (a standard Hollywood melodrama with
chases, fights, an improbable love story and an equally improbably happy ending), but the futuristic vision and the computer graphics that implemented it were
indeed stunning (with influences ranging from Terry Gilliam's Brazil to
The plot contains many unanswered questions and contradictions (for example, Johnny seems to always have only 24 hours left even though more than 24 hours have already elapsed).
In 2021 the world is suffering from a mysterious virus
called NAS. There is no known cure for it.
Meanwhile, corporations like Pharmakom dominate society.
They use "mnemonic couriers" to exchange highly sensitive information,
and they use gangs of yakuzas to defend their interests.
There are rebels: the "loteks", who live in the slums.
Johnny, one such courier, wakes up in bed with a sexy woman (who then disappears from the film, so maybe she's just a prostitute).
He discusses his case with his boss Ralfi: to turn him into a valuable courier,
they wiped out all his memories to install a brain impant, and he now wants to get rid of the implant and regain his memories. Ralfi tells him that he needs
to carry out one more lucrative mission because the cost of the surgery has increased.
Johnny accepts even though the amount of data exceeds his brain's capacity and
he knows that he would risk death if the data are not extracted within 24 hours.
The mission takes Johnny to Beijing. He meets a group of inexperienced kids who
want him to transport a huge amount of top-secret data.
Johnny is plugged into a device that uploads the data to his brain.
Somehow (not clear why)
the scientists also want to transmit the data to somebody in Newark and
three images are used as the cryptographic key .
After uploading the data to his brain,
Johnny feels sick and walks to the bathroom just when
Shinji's yakuzas, sent by Pharmakom, enter the room and kill everybody
before the data can be transmitted to Newark.
Johnny manages to destroy the original data and to escape, but can grab only one of the three images.
All the data are still in his brain.
Almost instantly Johnny finds himself in "the free city of Newark".
Shinji reports to the Japanese boss of Pharmakom's Newark branch, Takahashi, that the mission
failed. Takahashi wants Johnny's head (his data) at all costs.
Takahashi keeps watching the video of a little girl, and an A.I. interrupts
the video to give him advice, with a woman's face.
Ralfi is in a night-club, sitting at a table with his bodyguard, a sexy bionic female. Another bionic woman, Jane,
is hanging out with her friend Spider (punk singer Henry Rollins).
She hates Ralfi because he rejected her offer to be his bodyguard.
A furious Johnny (no jet lag of course) calls Ralfi and demands
that the data be removed from his head and his childhood memories restored.
Ralfi instructs the driver of a taxi to take Johnny to a dilapidated building
in "lotek" territory.
It's a trap to kill him, but Johnny escapes.
J-bone (rapper Ice-T), the leader of the "loteks", gets involved
and is almost killed by one of them. Johnny saves him, and
then J-bone saves Johnny, so now they are friends and allies.
An even more furious Johnny walks into the night-club and confronts
Ralfi. However, Ralfi and
and his bodyguard, who have been hired by Takahashi, grab Johnny and take him to a room where they prepare to cut his head using Shinji's laser sword.
A curious Jane follows them and breaks into the room just in time to save
Johnny and escape with him into the territory of the "loteks".
Unable to pursue Johnny, Shinji cuts Ralfi in pieces with his laser sword.
Meanwhile, Takahashi keeps watching the video of the little girl, and we learn
that it was his daughter, who died of NAS, and the female A.I. appears again
to give him advice.
As they walk in a subterranean tunnel, Johnny tells Jane that he desperately
needs a computer to go online. They get to a room where Johnny can wear goggles
and use a dataglove to browse cyberspace. He finds out that the Chinese were
trying to send the data to a man called Allcome in Newark.
Just then Shinji's yakuzas have located them and try to infect them with the NAS virus. They succeed in infecting Jane.
Informed of the new failure, Takahashi calls and hires a bionic man, Karl,
a mad preacher who runs the Church of Transfiguration, to bring him the head
At the same time Johnny calls the headquarters of Pharmakom and offers to give
them the data. Jane, who is with him all the time, feels that it's a suicidal
offer. At the same time Jane is getting sick with the NAS virus.
She tells him about her friend Spider, a clandestine doctor who may be able to
extract the data from Johnny's head.
Meanwhile the mad preacher is searching lotek for them, as witnessed by J-bone
himself, and tortures the janitor of the night-club to find out where Jane is hiding.
Takahashi is visited again by the female A.I. on his computer and she reveals
that she is the avatar of the deceased
former CEO of Pharmakom, and she still
advices the corporation.
As Jane becomes epileptic and unconscious due to NAS, Johnny takes her to Spider's home.
Spider sedates Jane and then tries to operate on Johnny, but gives up as he
would probably kill him. Spider drives Johnny and Jane to his clinic, which
is just a camp hospital for NAS patients. There he reveals that Allcome is
simply them, the underground that tries to find a cure for NAS, and that
the Chinese were trying to transmit to him the cure for NAS, stolen from
Pharmakom. Spider explains that Johnny is carrying in his head the cure that
would save millions of people, including Jane. But extracting it could kill
Johnny. A selfish Johnny declines to do it and then Spider suggests that they
try "Jones" at the lotek headquarters.
Just then Karl the mad preacher attacks the clinic. Johnny and Jane escape while
the generous and humanitarian Spider is brutally killed.
Jane is now officially Johnny's girlfriend.
Johnny heads to the meeting with Pharmakom, which of course turns out to be
Takahashi who is only interested in killing Johnny.
Johnny and Jane go to J-bone's lotek headquarters and learn that Jones is
a cybernetic dolphin capable of encrypting data even without the full keys.
Johnny is beginning to have strong attacks and so this time he accepts to try.
Takahashi and the yakuzas arrive and attack the loteks
Takahashi shoots at Jane (of course he misses) and then is about to kill Johnny
when the female A.I. appears. She tells
Takahashi that Johnny has the cure for NAS in his head and that
Pharmakom kept the cure secret because they make more money treating NAS than curing it, i.e. that Pharmakom let his daughter die of NAS even if a cure existed
(not clear why she didn't tell him earlier).
Shinji shoots Takahashi before he can react, and Johnny then kills Shinji after an elaborate duel.
Karl the mad preacher too attacks Johnny, but Jane saves him and kills Karl
with a powerful ray that incinerates his body.
Before dying Takahashi gives Johnny another image to decrypt the data, and
the female A.I. gives him the third one.
J-Bone can finally hook Johnny to the dolphin, and the dolphin begins to extract the data, which the loteks broadcast worldwide via a giant dish, so that
everybody can access the cure.
As the data are extracted, Johnny recovers his childhood memories, and we
realize that the female A.I. was his mother.
A revolution seems to start in Newark (presumably against Pharmakom) and
Johnny and Jane watch it from J-bone's headquarters smiling and holding hands.