Film Review: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Also known as: JM (Japan)
Release Date: April 15th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Robert Longo
Written by: William Gibson
Based on: Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson
Music by: Brad Fiedel, Mychael Danna (Japanese release)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Denis Akiyama, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier, Tracy Tweed, Don Francks

Alliance Communications Corporation, Cinévision, TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t shoot me.” – Johnny Mnemonic, “Not in the head.” – Takahashi

I saw this in 1995 and thought it was a cool movie, even if it was a bit wacky. Watching it in 2021, the year that the film’s story takes place, I can say that it hasn’t aged very well.

Also, they definitely didn’t come close to predicting an accurate 2021.

Still, this is a cool movie, even now, and the fact that it is outdated makes it somewhat endearing.

If I’m being honest, it’s hard not to like Keanu Reeves in anything. But then add in the always alluring Dina Meyer, the badass Dolph Lundgren, punk legend Henry Rollins, gangster rap legend Ice-T, Udo Kier, Takeshi Kitano and set it in a dystopian cyberpunk future and you have what should be a winning formula.

The problem (and for some, a benefit) of the movie is that it is the epitome of ’90s sci-fi action.

For someone like me, that’s a pretty good thing. But with that usually comes strange, experimental special effects, as CGI was really still in its infancy. Plus, there is a certain stylistic panache that makes this seem clunkily crafted with garish, fantastical tech and old tech retrofitted to seem futuristic.

Through modern eyes, films like this can be described “retro futuristic”. With that, it’s near impossible, once dated by a long passage of time, for these movies to not come across as hokey and kind of silly.

Regardless of all that, I still like the movie for the most part. The actors are all fine in their roles, even if a few of them hammed it up a bit too much. But I also don’t blame the actors for that, as the real issues from the movie seem to come from its direction.

It’s hard to really see what the director’s vision was, as the picture is kind of sloppy, confusing and poorly edited. While other people were involved in these aspects of making this film, it still falls on the director to take all these elements and make his vision come through. Johnny Mnemonic, from an artistic standpoint, just feels amateurish.

In the end, this is fairly entertaining if ’90s cyberpunk flicks are your thing. However, without Keanu Reeves, I think that this is a really forgettable movie that probably would’ve never gotten the cult following it obtained had Reeves never been in it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Leprechaun In the Hood (2000)

Also known as: Leprechaun 5: In the Hood (alternative title)
Release Date: March 28th, 2000
Directed by: Rob Spera
Written by: Doug Hall, Jon Huffman, William Wells, Alan Reynolds, Rob Spera
Based on: characters by Mark Jones
Music by: Nicholas Rivera
Cast: Warwick Davis, Ice-T, Coolio (cameo)

Trimark Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“A friend with weed is a friend indeed, but a friend with gold is the best I’m told.” – Leprechaun

While the fourth film is where the series starts to really drop off in quality, this fifth film is where it turns into a total piece of shit.

This completely ignores the events of the fourth film, which was set in the future in outer space. Or maybe, chronologically that one is the final movie. But then again, I guess it doesn’t matter, as none of these movies really seemed tied to previous installments.

Anyway, the idea of having the Leprechaun go against Ice-T is kind of intriguing but when the script and the direction are quite deplorable, you get a stupid, mundane picture that might be a turd but can’t even stay afloat.

There is actually one amusing scene where the owner of a pawn shop makes fun of the film’s three protagonists but that’s about it. Even the Leprechaun’s one-liners seem tired by this point and even though the series needed to sort of reinvent itself, this was a massive misstep.

I can’t fault Warwick Davis, he seems to love playing this character and getting a paycheck in the process but five movies deep, even he can’t keep this franchise going.

The main characters in this story are rappers and they draw the ire of an evil rap producer/gangster. Just think Suge Knight, as played by Ice-T.

The music is absolute crap. This film came out in 2000 but these rappers sound like a group from a West Coast gangsta rap demo that got rejected in 1991.

In the end, the Leprechaun raps poorly too but he’s at least better than the actual rappers. This is only worth checking out for that scene and you can just watch it on YouTube, anyway.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Leprechaun movies starring Warwick Davis.

Film Review: Ricochet (1991)

Release Date: October 4th, 1991
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Fred Dekker, Menno Meyjes
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollak, Lindsay Wagner, Sherman Howard, Mary Ellen Trainor, John Amos, Miguel Sandoval, Jesse Ventura

Indigo Productions, Cinema Plus, HBO Pictures, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“I guess a Beretta in the butt beats a butterfly in a boot, huh?” – Nick Styles

Man, this may be the most Fred Dekker movie ever put to celluloid. It’s got his fingerprints all over the story and Steven E. de Souza’s script really encapsulates the spirit of Dekker’s style. Beyond that, the director, Russell Mulcahy, then turns everything up passed eleven! I’d say he turned it to about seventeen!

I haven’t seen this since it was a new movie on VHS but I’ve got to say that even though I remember enjoying it, I didn’t realize how over the top and crazy it was. I guess that’s because this was fairly normal for an early ’90s edgy boi action flick.

Seeing greats like Denzel Washington and John Lithgow clash in this was fucking incredible, though! These guys brought their a-game, their balls and then, I’m assuming, shot a bunch of steroids and extra testosterone into their man bits. That’s the only way I can really explain their intensity in this movie.

This is a high octane action thriller from the very beginning. It follows a young cop that takes down an extremely violent criminal in the first few minutes. The cop becomes a hero and a bit of a celebrity and eventually starts working for the district attorney’s office. He ends up getting married and has two daughters. All the while, Lithgow rots in prison, fighting and murdering other prisoners, waiting for his chance to escape and get vengeance on the cop that put him there.

Once out of prison, the criminal creates an elaborate plot to break the cop down, destroy his personal life, his career, pump him full of heroin and have him get raped by a hooker with an STD. This story goes to some dark, bonkers places.

In the end, Denzel sets his own trap by utilizing the gangsters he grew up with. The big, legitimately awesome finale takes place on the famous Watts Towers. The finale is fucking great! Especially, for those who loved these type of over-the-top, bar pushing action flicks of this era.

All in all, this is far from a perfect film and it has its flaws but it is perfect escapism, chock full of that “toxic” masculinity that modern Hollywood loathes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other cop thrillers of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Who’s the Man? (1993)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1993
Directed by: Ted Demme
Written by: Seth Greenland, Doctor Dré, Ed Lover
Music by: Michael Wolff, Nic. tenBroek, various
Cast: Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, Badja Djola, Cheryl “Salt” James, Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Bernie Mac, Bill Bellamy, Terrence Howard, Richard Gant, Guru, Ice-T, Larry Cedar, Jim Moody, Joe Lisi, Karen Duffy, Roger Robinson, Richard Bright, Rozwill Young, Vincent Pastore, Caron Bernstein, Kim Chan, Ken Ober, B-Real, Ad-Rock, Apache, Bow-Legged Lou, Bushwick Bill, Busta Rhymes, Chi-Ali, CL Smooth, Pete Rock, Del the Funkee Homosapien, D-Nice, Dres, Eric B., Fab 5 Freddy, Flavor Flav, Freddie Foxxx, Heavy D, House of Pain, Humpty Hump, Kid Capri, Kris Kross, KRS-One, Leaders of the New School, Melle Mel, Monie Love, Naughty by Nature, Penny Hardaway, Phife Dawg, Queen Latifah, Run-DMC, Scottie Pippen, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, Stretch, Yo Yo, Da Youngsta’s

De Passe Entertainment, Thomas Entertainment, New Line Cinema, ,,, Minutes

Review:

“You fucked me! You fucked me! You might as well kiss me ’cause you’re fucking me!” – Sgt. Cooper

I’m one of the few people that saw this in the theater back in 1993 and honestly, I’m one of the few that saw it in my theater, as there were only three of us on opening night.

Still, I was stoked to see it, as I was a weekly viewer of Yo! MTV Raps at the time and the thought of Ed Lover and Doctor Dré in their own movie featuring dozens of rappers had my fourteen year-old self pretty damn excited.

The film also features Fab 5 Freddy and T-Money from Yo!, as well as some top up and coming comedians from the era like Bernie Mac, Denis Leary and Colin Quinn.

Now this isn’t specifically a well acted movie but it doesn’t need to be, as it is a buddy cop comedy made to appeal to teenagers that had a love of hip-hop. That being said, Lover and Dré were great, their chemistry shined through and their comedic timing was superb.

In a lot of ways, I saw the duo as their generation’s Abbott & Costello but unfortunately, they weren’t able to do anymore movies beyond this one. That’s kind of a shame, as they would’ve only gotten better but at the same time, Yo! MTV Raps was cancelled only two years later, ending a great era for hip-hop fans, which I feel had a lasting negative impact on hip-hop music going forward.

What makes this so fun to watch, especially now, is that it shows me how pure hip-hop still was in 1993 before it devolved into the overly corporate bullshit it became. This came out in a time where rappers still had real shit to say and a lot of the music was simply about having a good time or expressing positive messages. Sure, we all love the gangsta shit too but this film mainly features the East Coast side of the classic hip-hop era at its peak. There’s something magical about seeing all these guys in their prime, many of whom we have lost since then.

The bulk of the story revolves around Lover and Dré being failed barbers and having to join the police force to pay their rent. What they don’t know is that there is a sinister scheme afoot in their part of Harlem that leads to their beloved mentor and father figure being murdered for his real estate. This sets the pair off on trying to solve the mystery, even though they aren’t detectives and the police force doesn’t want them to be anything more than basic beat cops.

Along the way, they run into countless rappers, some of which have larger roles and most of which just have cameos. What’s weird about adding all these rappers in is that none of it seems forced or out of place. All the cameos are well handled and it’s kind of amazing that they actually got so many people in this movie.

The film is directed by the late Ted Demme, who was instrumental in bringing Yo! MTV Raps to the small screen. He would go on to direct a pretty good handful of films before his death, most notably Blow.

Additionally, this is written by Lover and Dré, which is probably why everything feels so natural, as they essentially play themselves in the film and they already head good relationships with all the other people in the movie, specifically the dozens of rappers.

This certainly isn’t a movie that’s going to resonate with those outside of my generation, who didn’t already have a love for East Coast hip-hop of the early ’90s, but it’s still pretty funny and these guys had incredible charisma and natural chemistry.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other hip-hop comedies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: CB4 (1993)

Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Chris Rock, Nelson George, Robert LoCash
Music by: John Barnes, various
Cast: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Deezer D, Phil Hartman, Chris Elliott, Charlie Murphy, Khandi Alexander, Art Evans, Theresa Randle, Willard E. Pugh, Rachel True, Richard Gant, Stoney Jackson, J.D. Daniels, LaWanda Page, Tommy Davidson (uncredited), Shirley Hemphill (cameo), Issac Hayes (cameo), Ice-T (cameo), Halle Berry (cameo), Ice Cube (cameo), Flavor Flav (cameo), Shaquille O’Neal (cameo), Eazy-E (cameo), Butthole Surfers (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.” – Albert, Sr.

When I reviewed Fear of a Black Hat several months ago, I brought up how similar these two movies were and how one may be ripping off the other. I also said that I preferred that one slightly but now, after revisiting CB4 for the first time in quite a long time, this picture just slightly takes the cake.

I think that over time, my memories downplayed how clever this movie was. While Fear of a Black Hat is more gritty and certainly more indie, CB4 feels like it has a better grasp on the material and it is much more refined and is a better complete body of work.

While some of the jokes and gags, almost thirty years later, may be over some people’s heads now, I still think that this aged well and it carries a good positive message. The gist of what the film tries to communicate is still very apparent, despite outdated references to a time when rap music was much better than whatever this modern mumble rap garbage is today.

Chris Rock was great in this and I have to say, it’s my favorite picture where he is the star. He’s relatable, he’s likable and his character is very human despite getting lost in the glamour, glitz and bullshit of trying to make it in the early ’90s rap game. Ultimately, even if his spirit is corrupted, it’s the goodness within himself (and his two best friends) that wins out and makes things right in the end.

One thing I really loved about this movie was the music. While most of it is parody of what was the gangsta rap of its era, it’s all really damn good. I actually owned the soundtrack in my teen years and used to bump it quite regularly.

Even though this came out very early in Chris Rock’s career, I still feel as if it is his magnum opus as an actor, comedian and writer. Sure, he’s always been funny but something about CB4 just felt like it was real personal for him and it’s something that truly comes out when you watch the film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: a movie that’s very similar, Fear of a Black Hat.

Film Review: Trespass (1992)

Also known as: The Looters (working title), Die Rap-Gang (Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1992
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Bill Paxton, Ice-T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, John Toles-Bey, Byron Minns, Hal Landon Jr.

Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the beauty of gold. It never tarnishes. Lasts forever, too. You can twist it, pound it, even piss on it but it’s always the same gold. It was here long before we were and it’ll be here a long time after we’re gone. I bet you a lot of men have died for the gold that’s just in this one piece.” – Bradlee

Man, I used to have a really high opinion of this film circa 1993 when I copied the VHS tape after I rented it. I mean, you’ve got two of the best gangster rappers of the era along with Bill Paxton and William Sadler, who forever won my admiration after playing Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a year or so earlier.

Plus, this was directed by Walter Hill, the guy that did The Driver, The Warriors, The Long RidersStreets of Fire48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs. and Red Heat. Additionally, the film was produced and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the creative force behind the Back to the Future trilogy.

But strangely, this just isn’t that great. Sure, it’s definitely okay for killing some time on a rainy day when you want an action film to help you with your low T. I don’t have low T though, my plums are solid and full of octane.

I do like this as more of a novelty thing though. You get to see both rappers named Ice come together at a time when they were both effectively breaking into movies. Ice-T killed it in New Jack City and Ice Cube gave a tremendous performance in Boyz N The Hood. You also get a solid cast of other up and coming black actors from the time: Tiny Lister, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson and De’voreaux White. Also, I have always liked Art Evans, he was great in Fright Night, and this may be my favorite role he’s done.

But still, this just falls really flat.

The plot is about these Arkansas firefighters that acquire a map to a stolen religious treasure. The treasure is hidden in an abandoned factory in East St. Louis. They travel there to look for the long lost gold but quickly find themselves in over their heads as they witness a gang murder. The two firefighters then find themselves holed up in a locked room with a hostage, the head gangster’s little brother, and a homeless man. The rest of the film is mostly a standoff that plays out in a lot of different ways but ultimately, the building is set on fire and we get some solid gun play.

Trespass is certainly watchable and makes for a better than decent early ’90s action flick but there isn’t much to make you care about it. It’s not a classic, by any means. But my problem with it, is that it should have been a classic. Look at the talent in front of and behind the camera.

I do still like this film but for Walter Hill, it’s one of his weakest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’90s hip-hop heavy action films: Judgment NightGunmenSurviving the Game and Deep Cover.