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Case Number 24231: Small Claims Court

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Phenomenon (Blu-ray)

Touchstone Pictures // 1996 // 123 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 30th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson is a phenomenon (according to his autobiography).

Editor's Note

Our review of Phenomenon, published April 11th, 2000, is also available.

The Charge

Some things in life just can't be explained.

The Case

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.

The Verdict

Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Blu-ray
• Drama
• Fantasy

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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