'Phenomenom' is simply phenomenal

by Keith Zorn | 7/19/96 5:00am

While everyone is flocking to see "Independence Day," a special 'phenomenon' is being somewhat overlooked.

"Phenomenon" is an uplifting, spirited film about George Malley (John Travolta), a common mechanic in Small Town, U.S.A. (a.k.a. Harmon, Cal.), who is suddenly struck by a flash of light on his 37th birthday.

The mysterious flash turns George into a genius and eventually a hero, transforming his simple life (George's character has been compared with that of Forrest Gump) into a passionate quest for knowledge.

Unable to sleep and endowed with new powers such as telekinesis and the ability to "see clearly" and concentrate intensely, George starts reading with abandon, exploring all the subjects he always wanted to know about, from hybrid gardening to cryptology and seismology. This is not, however, a typical Faustian tale, for George never becomes blinded by his ambition. He always remembers the things that were important to him before the change: his best friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker), for example, and the woman he is dying to get a date with, Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick).

Along with George's new-found talents come the inevitable challenges of being famous and different. The citizens of Harmon acquire a suspicious fear of George, and he can no longer go anywhere without being questioned or mocked.

The film is interspersed with poignant, memorable scenes, steadily building in intensity for an ending in which the humanness of George and those characters close to him triumphs over all the challenges of the situation (bring tissues!).

Though the beginning is somewhat contrived and cliched, "Phenomenon" improves steadily throughout, growing into a fine drama and an excellent piece of entertainment.

Strong performances by an all-star and a plot that will thoroughly engage most viewers make this one of the best and most popular movies of the summer.

After a string of films in a much different vein--including "Pulp Fiction," "Get Shorty," and "Broken Arrow"--Travolta proves with his persuasive performance as George that he is becoming a well-rounded actor.

Kyra Sedgwick ("Something to Talk About," "Singles") is brilliant as Lace, a single parent who moves to rural Harmon to raise her two children in peace. At first closed and elusive, she eventually opens up to George, creating one of the most genuine romances you will find in the movies today.

The country Doc, played by Academy Award-winner Robert Duvall ("Tender Mercies," "The Godfather," "Apocalypse Now"), is a minor character who appears with passionate performances in some 'major' scenes.

Forest Whitaker ("The Crying Game") rounds out the excellent cast with a touching performance as George's best friend Nate, a simple-minded American Joe who remains loyal to George through all his changes.

Excellent photography of beautiful landscape and a cozy little town, coupled with music that was obviously designed to become a soundtrack--among other artists, there are songs by Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, and Peter Gabriel--makes "Phenomenon" an audio-visual feast.

"Phenomenon" is a smart, well-made movie with some positive subject matter for a change. As director Jon Turteltaub said, discussing his interest in the film, "One of the things that intrigued me most about the screenplay was that it asked the question, 'What does it mean to be intelligent?'. . . So many films we see say, 'Isn't it great to be stupid?'"

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!