Thursday, August 17, 2017

Phenomenon (1996)

George Malley is an ordinary man.  He has a job as a mechanic and has trouble understanding how a rabbit keeps getting in his garden.  The night of his 37th birthday, George sees a bright light approach and engulf him.  He gets knocked to the ground, but appears unhurt.  In fact, he’s able to beat someone at chess.  That night, while lying awake, he figures out his rabbit problem.

George is able to read and retain increasing amounts of information.  He learns Spanish quickly, for instance.  He builds an engine that runs on (and smells of) manure.  He learns functional Portuguese in 20 minutes so he can help find a boy.  He even cracks a code used by the government, which gets him in trouble.  It comes at a terrible cost, though, and I’m not just talking about being ostracized.

The movie is a cross between Forrest Gump and The Twilight Zone.  It’s not too heavy on the science-fiction aspect.  It’s not really explained how he’s able to do stuff like telekinesis.   everyone attributes it to the aliens that George saw, but George insists that he never said anything about aliens.  Even with the learning, there’s not so much as a mention of the 10%-of-your-brain myth.  His abilities just grow.

Instead, the movie is more about the relationships.  His friend, Nate, is also interrogated when the FBI brings George in.  George’s cracking that code was impressive and the government wants to tap that ability, but George wants no part of it.  Instead, he wants to go home.   He wants to go back to his repair shop.  International espionage isn‘t really his thing.  When he gets back to the repair shop, George finds that Hell really is other people.  Since they won’t come by, he can only imagine what they must think of him.

This is one of those movies that I kind of forgot about after it first came out.  It’s not the kind of thing I would see on the basic-cable channels.  If it hadn’t come on Netflix, I might have gone anther ten or twenty years without watching it.  I think the problem is that it tries to appeal to two audiences without doing either really well.  It’s not pure science fiction and it’s not anywhere close to what I would expect with romance.

It almost seems like someone’s idea for a TV show that couldn’t quite make it a full season.  This is the kind of story I could see spending the pilot episode on George fixing up his farm.  We could have an episode or two dealing with the espionage angle.  We could have one about the earthquake.  Instead, the movie tries to pack all these amazing feats into a two-hour film.

It was entertaining the first time, but that was because you didn’t know what to expect.  Once the story has played out, there’s no replay value other than to pass the time.  I might watch it again in a decade or two, if we’re still using streaming.

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