John Travolta
Kyra Sedgewick
Forest Whitaker
Robert Duvall
Richard Kiley
Brent Spiner
Jeffrey DeMunn
David Gallagher
Tony Genaro

Jon Turtletaub


Time: 124 Minutes
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama

Without viewing a frame of PHENOMENON, I knew it was already better than most movies. It goes out on a limb to teach us a valuable lesson while it entertains and you don't see that done well very often. The film is about keeping an open mind when confronted with things or people you can't explain. Travolta plays George Malley, a simple, friendly auto mechanic in a small town who swears he saw a bright light one night while walking home from the local bar.

His friends rib him about drinking too much and seeing things, but Travolta's character knows that something happened to him that night. He knows it did because he is consumed with acquiring knowledge, information of any kind. He can't stop reading, and not just novels and magazines, but science textbooks and journals. He starts inventing things and helping people in ways he couldn't even begin to comprehend before the incident.

No one knows quite what to make of this new George. His friends are wary, Lace, played by Kyra Sedgwick, is fascinated and the townspeople are frightened. He's the same man, and yet this knowledge is transforming him into someone they can't understand. The fear begins when he learns to speak Portuguese in a half hour on the way to help some friends. His super ability to learn makes him "inhuman" to many people in the town. Of course word of his remarkable ability spreads and he is contacted by several universities to undergo testing to discover how this happened. He agrees to go because he has several great ideas he wants to talk about and he's as curious as they are to know why. It is at this point the film takes a spin for the worst. If you don't want to ruin the ending, stop reading. Suffice it to say, it sucks.

While undergoing a battery of tests it is discovered that George has an inoperable brain tumor. (I know I should have seen this coming.) It is the pressure and accelerated growth of the tumor that they believe caused his ability to learn to jump off the charts. He is devastated by this news, but wouldn't trade his new found knowledge for anything. The experience has been pure magic and made him feel truly alive for the first time in years. However, this isn't what pissed me off. This was an unfortunate, but plausible turn of events. Who knows what the brain is capable of? Scientists say we only use 10% of it anyway. I believe this could truly happen.




Bonnie: "You learned the Portuguese language in 20 minutes?!"

George Malley: "Not all of it."

What was unforgivably stupid, was that his ideas also attracted the attention of the government. Why they would care I don't know. I hope that in real life they have better things to do then check into every person purporting to be a genius. And since they can't explain how George is learning, they decide he's a threat to national security and place him under protective custody until he dies. What? Since when can the government just arrest you for learning quickly? He never did or said anything subversive or anti-American. This was completely irrational. Did they really think the plot needed some sort of action? The government had no place in this sweet film about love and acceptance.

Besides the truly lame-ass ending, PHENOMENON is a well-acted intriguing story about a man who finds true joy through the acquisition of knowledge. This is a film about something meaningful and useful. It's too bad they couldn't leave it at that.

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