Children delighted in the first half of this tear-jerker drama, which deals with the supernatural powers bestowed on George Malley--a lonely, big-hearted galoot beloved by just about everyone in his small town near San Francisco.
He doesn't know why, but he can suddenly beat his father figure (Robert Duvall) at chess. He reads two and three library books a day and develops his own scientific innovations in agriculture and solar heating. He can speak Spanish and Portuguese, though he's spent little time studying either.
He can also predict earthquakes, astounding the wide-eyed professors at UC Berkeley who want to study him.
"I liked the part when they were testing him," said Sara Morgan, 11, of Irvine, who came to a sneak preview at Edwards Woodbridge in Irvine. "He was funny because he knew everything."
It reminded Jennifer Collins, 14, also of Irvine, of a favorite movie, "Powder," about a teenage outcast. "Powder used 100% of his brain, and [George Malley] would be able to focus kind of like Powder," she said.
But the fun got bogged down in the second half by plot twists, messages and sadness.
As George gains knowledge, he loses his friends, who want to know what happened to him. Was he abducted by aliens? Is he trying to trick them? Why is the FBI after him?
Meanwhile, he continues to pursue a beautiful single mother (Kyra Sedgwick), secretly buying all the chairs she handcrafts for sale.
She rebuffs him at first because she thinks any man would leave her eventually.
And then there is the coldblooded researcher who wants to perform life-threatening brain surgery on him.
It was all too much for Doug Sunshine, 12, of Irvine. "I didn't understand what John Travolta wanted to do. I didn't understand what the surgeon wanted to do. I was bewildered," he said. The movie plodded on until it ran out of gas, he said. "The ending was weak."
While both Doug and his sister Jacqueline, 7, gave the movie a mixed one-thumb-up-and-one-down review, their older sister Vanessa, 13, said she liked it.
"It wasn't anything like I expected," she said. "It was really, like, emotional, and I thought it was going to be more of a special-effects kind of a movie. It really had a point to it." While it was hard to understand, she said, it seemed to be saying, "Life is precious and hold on to it."
Doug said his father brought the whole family because he "thought it was going to be the feel-good movie of the year," he said.
Without giving it away, the ending brought tears to the eyes of some kids who said they never cry in movies.
The Sunshines were surprised at the PG rating. "They said a lot of bad words," Doug said. "It was an adult movie."
The romance between Travolta and Sedgwick is tame, and there is little violence, but because the themes are adult-oriented, the movie should have been rated PG-13, Vanessa said. The PG rating mistakenly gives people the impression the movie is for children, she added.
For Sara Morgan, there was only one overriding problem with the movie. "It was too long," she said.