(Jon Turteltaub, USA, 1996)


George (John Travolta) is a small-town Everyman in the Frank Capra mould.

He is such an innocent guy that when he murmurs to the object of his desire Lace (Kyra Sedgwick), "I'd love to get my hands on your carburetor", he is not even talking dirty.

One night George is zapped by a light in the sky – a phenomenon that could be an alien visitation or a perceptual hallucination. From that point, he rapidly becomes brilliant, devouring Einstein and the Kama Sutra at a single sitting.

For a while, Phenomenon appears to be an ugly fable about the need for poor, homely Americans to acquire the cultural capital of education and sophistication – a Pretty Woman (1990) for guys.

But, eventually, the ultra-gifted George becomes an Edward Scissorhands (1990) hero-type: outcast, maligned, hounded by the media, probed by cold-hearted scientists, treated even by his friends as a freak.

As directed flatly by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, 1993), Phenomenon eventually reveals its spiritual, New Age aspirations. Like the hero of the much more interesting Powder (1995), George starts mumbling about divine energy sources, the future of the planet, and the "light within".

We see George constantly scribbling in a pad what he cryptically refers to as "possibilities" for the human race. Unfortunately, the only time in this weak film that the hero actually tries to impart his new-found wisdom to a young boy, all he manages is this philosophical gem: "Everything is on its way to somewhere."

MORE Turtletaub: Instinct, While You Were Sleeping

© Adrian Martin August 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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