July 14, 1996 -- "Phenomenon" is a good idea for a movie, but it gets lost toward the end of the film and winds up in a muddle.
John Travolta plays George Malley, who becomes the smartest person in the world after seeing a strange light on his 34th birthday. Suddenly, Malley develops a voracious reading appetite and stops sleeping.
Malley uses his time to come up with inventions and scientific theories, but there's more. He becomes unusually sensitive to seismic vibrations and acquires the ability of telekinesis, the ability to move objects with his mind.
The part of the movie where Malley awakens to the possibilities around him is interesting, as is the love story between him and Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), but then it loses its way when the FBI swoops in, followed by a mad scientist doctor who wants to cut Malley's head open to see why he's so smart.
These things detract from the story, as do some scenes with Robert Duvall, who plays the kindly town doctor. At times the movie comes to a halt (here's a scene we put in so that Robert Duvall can show everybody what a great actor he is!) so that Duvall can show off.
The story is similar to "Charly," a 1968 movie based on the wonderful short story by Daniel Keyes, "Flowers for Algernon." So far, nobody has gotten close to the poignancy of Keyes' story, and "Phenomenon" certainly comes up short. Some of the ideas expressed in the film are similar to those in the 1991 ecological opus, "Mindwalk."
Travolta does a very good acting job, as do Forest Whitaker, who plays his friend, Nate Pope, and Pennamin. It isn't their fault the story runs out of gas. The movie rates a C+.
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