Reel Toronto: Johnny Mnemonic
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Reel Toronto: Johnny Mnemonic

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Respect to Henry Rollins, but do you want him to be your doctor?
We at Reel Toronto are always happy to meet readers’ requests, even if it means sitting through 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic. The truth is we kind of watched this one on fast-forward, but we got the basic idea: Keanu Reeves is some kinda data courier who works with these ragtag punky types because he’s carrying some crucial data that some bad guy wants. Right? We found a summary of it all online, but even that was a bit baffling.
What we also know is that, despite claims of taking place in Newark (and Beijing!), Johnny is a 416 flick all the way.

“Don’t give me lip! I’ve made a career starring in cyber-themed movies that take place in abandoned subway stations!”
Johnny Mnemonic is basically a road movie that takes place entirely between Bloor Street and Lake Ontario. At the northern end of that district we find local boy Keanu Reeves strolling with Dina Meyer on the tracks leading in the Lower Bay train station (you can watch eight whole seconds of the scene).
A few years ago, Lower Bay subway station was one of the great hidden Toronto legends. Thanks to Nuit Blanche and some TTC construction last year, it’s lost a little of that mysterious cachet, but it’s still a fun and unique site to see on celluloid.
Raves, subway stations, cyber-shit: all in a virtual day’s work for Keanu Reeves and company.
Now, there’s this bad dude and he hangs out in a club where a rave is going on, and we’ll be gosh-darned if it ain’t at our very own Opera House. The distinctive balcony area is where he’s sitting, but you can catch some nice glimpses of the floor and stage areas too.
From Keanu to the Cowboy Junkies, the Church of the Holy Trinity has got style.
Now, there’s this church, see. And living there is some weird Jesus-looking dude played by Dolph Lundgren of all people. Maybe there’s some subtext or something going on there; it was hard to tell on fast-forward. What we did catch is that the exterior was shot at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Yeah, it’s that little place tucked in behind the Eaton Centre and it’s also where the Cowboy Junkies recorded The Trinity Session.
The interior scenes were shot at Riverdale Presbyterian Church.
Despite that location’s important place in local film history, it has since been converted into 32 lovely condo units. Whether the one-time presence of the man who played both He-Man and Ivan Drago was a selling point, we do not know.
No word on whether the Old Spaghetti Factory remains open after the apocalypse.
A little smoke and garbage lend a nice post-apocalyptic feel to “Newark.” We mean, without all that you might recognize our friendly downtown Novotel and The Esplanade bearing off to the left. Despite the filmmakers’ efforts, some of the skyline shots seem a bit familiar to Torontonians, but pobody’s nerfect, right?
Even in the background, the Eaton Centre is no wallflower.
One such smoky, grungy streetscape is the rather cool O’Keefe Lane. It’s a tucked away location but, as you can see above, it’s awfully close to shopping mecca, the Eaton Centre. This random-but-cool YouTube video gives a great sense of how this un-Toronto-looking alley looks in the daytime.

For all its faults, no film which contains a scene like this is irredeemable.
Keanu Reeves starred in Hamlet. Keanu Reeves got famous for saying stuff like, “woah.” Keanu Reeves starred in one of the biggest (if ultimately disappointing) motion picture trilogies of all time. And yet never, never ever, did he commit himself as an actor like he did delivering this monologue. It’s some powerful stuff. It at least shows the movie is not without a sense of humour about itself.
Our advice? Print off the following text, head down to Villiers Street near the docklands, climb on top of a car, and recreate this cinematic moment with your friends.
“Listen! You listen to me! See that city over there [New York, natch]?! That’s where I’m supposed to be! Not down here with the dogs and the garbage and the fucking last month’s newspapers blowing back and forth!! I’ve had it with them!! I’ve had it with you!! I’ve had it with all this!! I…WANT…ROOM SERVICE!!! I want the club sandwich!! I want the cold Mexican beer!! I want a ten thousand dollar a night hooker!! [pause] I want my shirts laundered. Like they do at the Imperial Hotel. In Tokyo.”
Nah, they haven’t started the Union Station renos yet. It’s just a futuristic movie.
Probably the most recognizable local location is the makeshift hospital set up in the great hall of Union Station. The dim lighting and people lying around confirm it’s Union, but the clock in the centre seals the deal.
Our erstwhile quasi-City Hall gets a little face time. Nice.
Probably the most unrecognizable location is Metro Hall. Has anyone ever gone into this place other than movie shoots? It’s not the most exciting building, but between this, Blues Brothers 2000 and X-Men, it’s building a nice filmography.
If this were in focus you’d totally know it’s Casa Loma.
There are also a few hazy blink-and-you-miss-em shots of places like Casa Loma (above), Spadina House and Allan Gardens. Yep, Johnny loves the T-dot.
Hopefully, we’re not pissing off a legion of hardcore Johnny Mnemonic fans with our cavalier attitude towards the film. We’ve seen worse flicks, but we hope you understand this Reel Toronto stuff ain’t always fun and games. Sometimes it’s down ‘n’ dirty. Sometimes, you just want the club sandwich, metaphorically speaking.