PHENOMENON * 1/2
In a cute, cute, grungily picturesque small town in the North of (you've guessed it, it's California again), people live in friendship and celebrate the 37th birthday of George Malley (Travolta, who is 42). Here you ask: Did you say George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart's name in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life"? Not quite but close.
George is a good man and a fine auto mechanic whose best pal is Nate (Whitaker). He is secretly in love with divorcee Lace (Sedgwick) who has two cute kids and (once bitten) does not wish to complicate her life.
On the night of his birthday, a mysterious light in the sky hits George. It must be the Bolt of Knowledge. Before you can spell "miracle" George, the common man. is transformed into a genius such as the world has never seen. He reads books by the ton, understands just about everything, learns foreign languages in minutes, has the gift of telekinesis, can beat anyone at chess, senses coming earthquakes, fixes organic and super-efficient fertilizer from common products, and more.
In short he is a polymath of extraordinary, superhuman proportions. But while otherwise George remains his old, warm and friendly self, his new power begins to disturb others. Except his pal Nate, the kindly doctor (Duvall) - the most educated and sophisticated person in town, Lace's children (kids are wiser than adults) and eventually, after a slow, sweet courtship, Lace herself.
There is a disturbing subtext of anti-intellectualism here. Or perhaps there is not. Hard to tell as the movie's myth seems uncertain as to where it wants to go, though surely it alludes biblically to the dangers of knowledge, clearly so when George and the kids take turns biting into an apple.
As George is about to go to the University at Berkeley and speak to all sorts of savants, and awkward plot device has the FBI close in on him as someone who knows classified information. More troubles follow at the same as happiness of an ordinary kind comes, thanks to loving Lace. (She gives him what is supposed to be the most erotic, shampoo and haircut in movies, but is, in reality, a tedious timewaster for us).
As troubles proceed, so does the sentimentality that steadily rises to 95 percent humidity tearjerker levels. The film, slow and a bit dull at first, remains slow and becomes very dull. This mega-intelligence of George's could have led the movie into any number of serious, funny or brainy directions. Instead, it opts for a peculiar solution that leaves everyone dissatisfied. I will not reveal it, in case you do see the film because of Travolta who is very good, a warm, unpretentious, lovable being.
Duvall is,as usual, perfect. Whitaker is merely a necessary presence, as is Sedgwick. The photography, heavy on the lyrical, is good. The score is terrible, generic stuff of the connect-the-dots school.