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... in which John Travolta gets touched by an angel, but Kyra Sedgwick doesn't really know how to handle it....
Buena Vista / 123 Minutes / 1996 / Rated PG / Street Date: July 3, 2012
George Malley (John Travolta) appears in Phenomenon as a normal dude. When we meet him, he's a mechanic in a sleepy Northern California town, a gentleman with a winning smile and kind demeanor, but there's nothing particularly - ahem - phenomenal about him. This all changes, of course, when he's knocked on his ass by a fireball from the sky on his 37th birthday.
This bundle of lightning transforms George into a veritable wunderkind, a guy who is able to assess and process information in seriously hyperactive ways. He learns languages, invents machines, predicts earthquakes - this event has evolved George into a kind of superhuman. And of course, both the neighborhood folks and local and state authorities aren't exactly sure what to make of it.
Phenomenon is most effective when its earnest isn't bogged down by on-the-nose melodrama. There is a real, emotive heart to the film that continues to connect, even twelve years after its release. Simple supporting performances from Forest Whitaker and Robert Duvall are major epicenters of this: these guys infuse Phenomenon with a simple, clean-hearted glow.
But unfortunately the movie veers into histrionically unstable territory more often than it should. If Phenomenon were to be cut back a little bit, if the movie could breathe without the heavy, leaden presence of exposition and needless plot developments, it could likely thrive as a Capra-esque postmodern drama. As it stands, though, Phenomenon is a sturdy but eventually unfulfilling fable, a picture that aims high, but doesn't entirely deliver on its potential.