Silly science fiction movies may be judged on their own merits — or you may judge them in relation to the canon of silly science fiction in general; and of course one must never forget why they are B-movies, because they must also be judged against (and look good compared to) movies of yet lower classes, down to the amateur.
The IMDB states that Keanu Reeves is ‘one of the most inscrutable actors to ever hit it big,’ and it is an interesting point; because he has certainly hit it big, and his inscrutability may be the most incredible thing about him. If there was any debate ever about his talent, this film would have to be pulled out in argument for the Keanu has NAY TALENT camp; for almost everybody outshines him. In fact only the woodenness of Ice T is perhaps harder to watch in Johnny Mnemonic.
By 1995 Keanu Reeves had already made Dracula, Point Break and Speed and been very good in all of them; and yet he was an extremely hit or miss commodity; which is not a bad description of this film, which was never, ever going to rise high.
One might be tempted to associate Udo Kier with silly B-movies, and certainly he is very much at home here as the hi-tech pimp, appearing creepily on various computer screens before we meet him in his lair, surrounded by his whores and Amazonian bodyguards. There is a fairly weird cult status attached to Udo Keir, which means that he often doesn’t do very much, other than act out a couple of creepy scenes, before departing for the next role; and here, although he isn’t in it much, by his own standards, it’s a fairly major role.
What makes Johnny Mnemonic one of the most unwatched movies of all time is perhaps the amazingly poor predictions it attempts to make about the future of the internet. That’s to say, they only look poor if you don’t know what the steampunk genre is; because this film is very much in there; cyber-steampunk in fact. The point is, that even writing this in 2012, there are another nine years still to go to prove or disprove this film’s predictive accuracy; and who is to say that if this internet bubble suddenly collapses, we won’t be reduced to carrying 320gb hard drives in the back of their heads?
Still; it is one of the funniest anachronisms in recent films to suggest that a special courier would in the future be required to smuggle a massive, massive 160 gigs of data across the world; and it is certainly the funniest bit in this film (though we shouldn’t laugh) when Keanu Reeves has it uploaded to himself. Also according to the Internet Movie Database this is a big theme with KR anyway — he frequently plays man either strapped or sitting in a chair while some type of procedure is performed on him — for which see all three Matrix films, Johnny Mnemonic (1995), Feeling Minnesota (1996), Dracula (1992), Constantine (2005), A Scanner Darkly (2006) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) — all of which feature this kind of thing.
Udo Kier goes on in a way that Keanu Reeves never will however, and if Keir's career proves anything, it shows that it is better to be the King of the B-movie rather than going in and out of favour as an A-lister. Keir’s range is of course wider than that of Keanu Reeves, and although Kier will never achieve those giddy box office highs, he is still a legend because of what he has done, who he has worked with, and a creepily comic way of worming himself into the viewer’s subconscious — always to be applauded.