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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Phenomenon

Starring: John Travolta, Kyra Sedgewick
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Rated: PG
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: July 1996
Genres: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Forest Whitaker, Jeffrey DeMunn, Robert Duvall, Richard Kiley, Brent Spiner, Vyto Ruginis, Bruce A. Young

Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

In the summers of 1990 and 1994, two offbeat, quieter films managed to become major word-of-mouth sleeper hits amid the loud, frenetic action blockbusters--Ghost and Forrest Gump, respectively. This year, comparable sleeper status may possibly come to Phenomenon, a slight but agreeable blend of comedy, drama, and whimsy.

John Travolta plays George Malley, a simple-minded, goofball auto mechanic who, after seeing a bright light on his 37th birthday, develops not only vast intelligence but the ability to move objects with his mind. Naturally, George's new abilities cause a stir in the Northern California town he calls home, attracting the attention of Berkeley scientists. However, there is one person he can't seem to get to pay him enough attention--chair maker and single mom Lace (Kyra Sedgwick), the Jenny to his Forrest, if you will.

A lot of Phenomenon resembles another recent Buena Vista release that dealt with supernatural powers, Powder. But one of the big reasons why this new film is as enjoyable and fun as the other was unwatchable and ridiculous is its healthy sense of humor. A great move on screenwriter Gerald diPego's part was to keep George's change a mere physical one, not also a personality change. George may become a genius, but he is still a goofball, as shocked as anyone else at his power. Since he remains just an average guy in spirit, George becomes a much more convincing and likable character than the straightfaced albino "saint" that is Powder. Vignettes in which George uses his powers to help others, such as where he tries to find a lost boy and another moment where he tries to fix his lonely Diana Ross-loving best friend (Forest Whitaker) up, are funny and cutesy without being overly cloying.

But that is not to say that there are not moments when director Jon Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping) lays on the sap a bit too heavily. By far the worst part of the film is an interminable "foreplay" scene in which Lace gives George a haircut and shave while the easy listening sound of Aaron Neville fills the soundtrack; the moment is so blatantly designed to be touching and sweet that it left me wanting to gag. In fact, Phenomenon's calculated manipulative tendencies are what keeps it from falling short of the level of a Gump. When the tale takes the obligatory melodramatic turn in the third act, virtually all of the offbeat humor vanishes, and I found myself not caring as much about the story as I did earlier.

Still, Travolta's effortless charm and charisma kept me emotionally involved in the picture. He is one of those stars who is instantly likable from frame one, and he is put to ideal use here--funny, sweet, with a good sense of self-aware humor. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Travolta (except, perhaps, Tom Hanks) in the role; he's such a perfect fit. The supporting cast, including Sedgwick, Whitaker, and Robert Duvall, make the most of their small but pivotal roles. Star Trek's Brent Spiner is particularly memorable in a hilarious bit where he (as an FBI researcher) attempts to test George's IQ.

Phenomenon is not as satisfying or enjoyable as a Ghost or a Gump, but it certainly has its charms, and that may very well be enough to insure its place among the top box office grossers of the summer.

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