Then Quentin Tarantino piggybacked him into the big boys' playground, and hung around to make sure he didn't mix with undesirables (he got Travolta to accept Get Shorty). But Tarantino must have been away when the script for Phenomenon arrived. You can guess the rest. At a low ebb, and with his buddy out of town, Travolta fell off the wagon.
The movie isn't Travolta's folly, though. He's almost endearing as George Malley, an ordinary small-town mechanic and professional Good Bloke in the mould of James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. George is stumbling out of his birthday party when he's knocked off his feet by a blinding light. Then the miracles start. He learns Spanish overnight. He becomes an innovator in solar energy, and ploughs through four books a day. His powers don't allow him to do anything more visually spectacular than grow big tomatoes, though he can will spanners to move, and levitate pens an inch or so. (There's a sweet scene between George and his doctor, played by Robert Duvall, when Duvall simply says "It's telekinesis" as though he were diagnosing gastroenteritis.)
George's talents have lots of benefits. He woos the new-single-mother- in-town (Kyra Sedgwick), and magically locates a missing child. But then there are the townsfolk, who are rather more, well, uncomplicated than George, and sceptical about the light in the sky.
The scenario suggests The Dead Zone, where Christopher Walken emerges from a car crash burdened with second sight, but Gerald DiPego's script is aiming for something less crushing, more comforting. At its most simple- minded, the film plays like a jibe at Bruce Joel Rubin, the screenwriter whose silly trilogy - Jacob's Ladder, Ghost and My Life - ferried the same plot between three genres and proved popular with thirtysomethings who suddenly realised they were going to die, and that it was high time they found inner peace, and a song for their funeral.
Sadly, Phenomenon is no spoof. If you haven't guessed before, you'll realise this when the director Jon Turtletaub tries to match the potter's wheel scene from Ghost. But the sight of Sedgwick washing Travolta's hair, then grooming him like an oversized Cruft's contender, doesn't really offer the same erotic possibilities as warm, wet clay.
The film is insistent about its message - that life is for living, death is not the end, all that drunkenly optimistic guff. But it leaves a lot unresolved, such as how George's body keeps ticking without the sleep that his brain shuns. And as George shatters mirrors with one look, you're reminded of Travolta's other brush with telekinesis, when he was on the receiving end in Carrie. What a difference a liberally administered bucket of blood could have made here.
Boys is a coming of age drama in which a public schoolboy (Lukas Haas) finds a damsel in distress (Winona Ryder) who's fallen off her horse, and hides her in his dormitory. It's odd to see Ryder flanked by co-stars who are younger and prettier than her, with bigger lips and better hair - a bouquet of boy-babes who are pleasant on the eye when the writing is painful on the ear. Haas is a very sensitive actor who gives some lovely line readings, but the messy editing robs him, and the story, of momentum. But there's the occasional sparkle, such as when Ryder coyly suggests "You could help me find my horse", and makes it sound like the hottest come-on since Bacall taught Bogart how to whistle.
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