Phenomenon (1996)



John Travolta is one hell of a hairy man. More than any other movie I’ve seen him in, Phenomenon features more of Travolta’s bodily fur than anything else you’re likely to come by.

The trailers have been barraging us with this simplest of plots for months. George Malley (Travolta) is a simple man in a small town on the eve of his 37th year, and on his birthday he sees a mysterious light in the sky which knocks him down and, faster than you can say ‘plot device,’ turns him into a supergenius. He comes complete with telekinetic powers, limited mind-reading ability, earthquake sensor, giant veggie-growing ability, speed reading, cruise control, and automatic transmission.

Because he is such an intellectual stud, he gains the love and fear of various people in the town. Among the lovers are Lace (Kyra Sedgwick), buddy Nate (Forest Whitaker), and local doctor ‘Doc’ (Robert Duvall). Among the fearers are the type of hick yahoos that are omnipresent in movies about simple men in small towns.

The film absolutely reeks of being a ‘pleasant’ picture…. Long, drawn-out photography. Dogs, kittens, rabbits, and flowers everywhere. Precocious children. Really bad pop music. Your occasional FBI agent. You know, cute stuff. From the director of (vomit) While You Were Sleeping, what else would you expect?

Not that I mean to detract from the charms of Phenomenon, because it isn’t by any stretch a terrible film. Instead, it’s just… there. It just goes on and on and never does much of anything. It’s predictable to a scene and not very original, but at least the movie isn’t insulting. The performances and direction are all fine, and there are some funny moments. Basically, it’s ‘pleasant.’

As far as the social message of this film, I really couldn’t begin to say. Most of the time it’s a running Public Service Announcement for reading. The rest of the time it gives off something of a ‘don’t be afraid of smart people’ theme. You’d think in two hours they’d come up with better than that.

A real George Malley could have.

Match wits with Vinnie Barbarino at the Phenomenon web site.