Review of Phenomenon
12th March 1997
The Post, (Birmingham)
Travolta’s talent shines through in a touching tale
John Travolta won high praise for his work in Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty after a number of lean years playing second and third fiddle.
Now rediscovered, we can at last recognise his acting strengths. First that rare ability to combine a Mr Cool toughness with the most winning smile in the movies since Burt Lancaster put his teeth in. And second, the ability to make you believe each character he plays – whether it be in Pulp Fiction or Get Shorty – is newly-minted.
Phenomenon (Touchstone Home Video) promises to gain him a whole new army of fans because it shows us that Tom Hanks has a real rival when it comes to playing an ordinary Joe (or in this case, George) caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
In years gone by, Travolta’s home-town car mechanic George Malley would have been played by James Stewart or, failing him, Gary Cooper.
George is loved by all and sundry for being one of the boys. A good neighbour-type revelling in the simple things of life and always ready to stand his round. The women love him, though he spends more of his time fiddling with carburettors than the fair sex.
Then it happens. One night, reeling out of his boozy 37th birthday party into the black Northern California night, George is knocked to the ground by a bright light that he sees shining in the sky.
Flying saucer? Weather satellite? The effects of alcohol? Who knows. George cannot explain the phenomenon, but it has an unsettling effect on his life.
He can’t sleep, he’s on edge. In the deep watches of the night, he finds himself catching up on the reading he never did in his youth. Eventually he’s absorbing 15 books a day and becomes a bit of a scholar.
Stranger things are happening to him. Out in the country with single mother, and his on-off sweetheart Kyra Sedgwick, he senses that an earthquake is about to strike. Called in to assist his drinking pal, Dr Robert Duvall, to treat a stricken immigrant, he is able to become fluent in Portuguese in 20 minutes.
George is perplexed, then panicked. How can a high-school dropout suddenly turn into a genius, the Uri Geller of the West Coast?
Things start to go wrong. As the scientists pile in on him, so his drinking pals, fascinated at first, and then frightened, begin to treat him like a pariah.
He gets his best friend, the trusting Forest Whitaker, into trouble with the FBI when he unscrambles an air force code message. The loyal Duvall and the lovely Kyra Sedgwick stand by him, but at some personal cost.
This is a movie to enchant, and a movie to amaze. It has as much going for it as Ghost and – what do you think? – not a four-letter word in view.
If you rent only one film this month, make it Phenomenon. Travolta is a joy and the supporting cast are perfection. Straight into my Top Ten for the year, even this early. P.S. keep the Kleenex handy.
Still with the unexplainable, The Arrival (EV), offers us a bearded Charlie Sheen in an extremely hairy situation. Convinced he has made contact with alien life, he is bounced from his job scanning the skies.
Being a man who won’t take butt-off for an answer, he pokes and probes and comes up with an amazing tale.
You won’t hear much about this action thriller, but I wholeheartedly recommend it. Even for non-UFO watchers.
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