The notion that human beings use something like just 10% of their brain capacity provides the springboard for phenomenon, a movie that lives up to a similar fraction of its potential. The Twilight Zone-type premise, of a simple man who suddenly finds himself endowed with exceptional mental powers, generates some undeniable interest, with John Travolta’s sympathetic performance as an Everyman transformed into a latter-day Einstein.
Director Jon Turteltaub has taken the easiest road, emerging with a soppy, soft-headed disease-of-the-week-style piece that sentimentalizes or opts out of every interesting issue the script raises.
George Malley (Travolta) is a small man in a small town, an agreeable auto mechanic who raises vegetables at his rural Northern California home but can’t get a date for his 37th birthday party. Taking a break from the beer bash, he is struck down by a blinding light from the night sky, whereupon he returns to the party. Very quickly, however, he finds himself a changed man.
Despite all his accomplishments and unsullied likability, he still can’t get anywhere with foxy single mom Lace (Kyra Sedgwick), but he keeps working on her. In the meantime, he cleverly fixes up his lonely-guy best friend, Nate (Forest Whitaker), just as he lands in hot water with the FBI. Travolta keeps things watchable, and Sedgwick is classy as the wary object of his affections, and Whitaker and (as a local doctor) Robert Duvall warmly fill out the emotional aspects of their decent, friendly characters.