Phenomenon (1996)

This crowd-pleasing melodrama is built around a nifty premise:  
popular George Malley (John Travolta), a small-town auto mechanic 
of average intelligence, undergoes a change on the night of his 
37th birthday.  He becomes smarter, devouring whole books in the 
evening because he doesn't want to sleep.  He begin inventing 
things, like a manure-fueled motor that gets 90 miles to the 
gallon.  He even acquires such mysterious metaphysical talents as 
telekinesis and the ability to predict when an earthquake is 
coming.  Poor George.  He's probably the sweetest guy in his small 
Northern California town and, yet, he's just as baffled as his 
doctor (Robert Duvall), his best friend (Forrest Whitaker), and the 
divorcee-with-kids (Myra Sedgwick) that he dotes upon.

No extrasensory perception is required to predict how the rest of 
the movie plays out.  PHENOMENON is designed to go down easy, with 
no sharp edges and nothing bitter about the taste.  You know the 
drill:  warm humor, smiling people, loud musical cues, and all of 
those oh-so-quaint, sun-baked surroundings.  The whole thing is 
about 90% predictable and that's exactly how the director, Jon 
Turtletaub (WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING), wants it.  He may not be 
another Spielberg-- a critical omission, here, is any genuine sense 
of wonder-- but he does know how to take a coolly calculated story 
and turn it into a satisfying and seemingly spontaneous product.  
(Sci-fi fans, however, may be disappointed to find that Turtletaub 
is much more interested in the story's romantic implications than 
the scientific.)

Unfortunately, what develops into an honest and rather wholesome 
movie is all but negated in the last half-hour.  PHENOMENON turns 
ugly somewhere around the ninety-minute mark.  The plot begins 
taking odd, manipulative turns and, by the time that we've been 
subjected to yet another pop song-scored montage, the story is 
clearly, though slowly, spiraling out of control.  These "extra" 
dramatics are hideous, entirely unnecessary, *and* suggest that 
neither the director nor the writer had any idea about how to end 
this movie.  (The filmmakers should've quit while they were ahead.)  
There is enough emotion at the very end, though, to satisfy the 
movie's intended audience.  They'll cry, leave, and be none the 
wiser.  (Rated "PG-13"/~120 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted in triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: June 30, 1996

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