Touchstone Pictures // 1996 // 123 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 30th, 2012
Some things in life just can't be explained.
George Malley (John Travolta, Face/Off) is a simple man living a simple life. He spends his days doing battle with small rodents and attempting to win the affections of the town's resident MILF (Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer). One night, following a particularly jovial time at the local watering hole, a strange light appears in the sky and zaps George square in the face.
The days following this weird encounter, George begins to discover some strange new powers. He can speed-read books, concoct brilliant inventions, and even exhibit rudimentary telekinesis. Frankly, he's a phenomenon! As word leaks out about George's powers, he's viewed differently by his friends and loved ones. And then the government shows up to presumably figure out a way to weaponize him and sic his book-reading ability on the Taliban.
I am just not a Phenomenon guy. Wait...are there Phenomenon guys? It's innocuous fluff, finely-tuned to elicit inoffensive laughs and waterworks moments. It's also primo Oscar-bait for Travolta who at the time was hip-deep in a Hollywood comeback for the ages. But beyond the crying and telekinesis is a familiar, run-of-the-mill story featuring very few surprises and an awful lot of Sheryl Crow.
I will give Travolta his due: He's not bad in this. It's a syrupy film, but the guy isn't mailing anything in. For a character who can use the Force and likes to deliver Hallmark card readings to small children, Travolta's George is likable and folksy enough to not be nauseating, which is a significant accomplishment in this saccharine production.
The whole thing locomotives -- wait, wrong word -- tugboats to a finale designed to keep the Kleenex box ravaged. As ambivalent as I am about this Phenomenon, I begrudgingly admit the ending pretty much nails the sentimentality.
The Blu-ray is a sound disappointment. I found the quality of this 2.40:1/1080p high definition transfer to be soundly wanting. The details were soft and at times look no better than an upconverted DVD. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is solid, though Phenomenon is such a low-key experience, there's not much for the mix to do. There are no extras.
For PG-rated, family-friendly storytelling you could do a whole lot worse. But I can go the rest of my life without ever thinking about Phenomenon again.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG