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Its opening is not too different from a Super-Hero Origin. George Malley (Travolta) is your average joe, an auto mechanic in a small city. On the evening of his 37th birthday, everything changes. He notices a strange flash of light which somehow grants him genius-level intellect, and telekinesis. The former power allows him to both absorb vast amounts of information and formulate revolutionary ideas.
Having an altruistic streak, George decides to devote his new skills to the improvement of his small town. Initially the locals are amused and intrigued. But their amusement soon turns to terror. There are exactly three people who stand by him: Lace Pennamin (Sedgwick), Nate Pope (Whitaker), and Doc Brunder (Duvall). Lace is his love interest, Nate his best bud, Doc is the fatherly town physician (who delivered him) and tries to figure out what has changed in George's physiology. George also intercepts and decodes an encrypted transmission, replying to it, which results in a top secret US military training exercise being canceled. This brings in the FBI, who interrogate him and then offer George an intelligence job, which he refuses, saying he learned things in deciphering secret communications that he did not want to know.
When George strains himself a bit too much, he sees a second flash of light. Which quickly knocks him out. By the time George wakes up, Doc Brunder has run some additional tests. He has found what is actually going on. Those flashes of light were, it seems, hallucinations caused by an extraordinary brain tumor. While its killing George slowly from the inside, it simultaneously increases the activity of his brain. More than any other human being.
Then, enter our villains. They are the FBI and medical researchers in the service of the Federal government. They want to perform involuntary medical experiments on George's brain. Now, the genius has to fight for a very basic right: dying with dignity, not as a guinea pig. He succeeds spectacularly. He leaves extensive notes of his scientific work (in hope someone could continue it), bonds with Lace's two kids (played by David Gallagher and Ashley Buccille), makes love to Lace herself and then dies in her arms. A year later, his friends honor the dead man on the day of his birthday.
- Beneficial Disease: George develops hyperintelligence and even psychokinesis because of what is eventually discovered to be a terminal brain tumor.
- Mind Over Matter: George's telekinesis.
- My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Nate, the best friend of John Travolta's character, asks him to teach him some Portuguese so he can hire a (beautiful) Brazilian lady as his maid. Travolta uses a tape recorder to give English and Portuguese "translations" for sentences like, "Can you start on Monday?". But the Portuguese sentences actually mean "You have beautiful eyes", and so on. At the end of the movie Nate and the Brazilian lady are expecting a baby. Aww.
- My Skull Runneth Over: The same medical condition granting George his intellectual powers is killing him.
- 90% of Your Brain: George's tumor gives him "more area of active brain use than anybody ever tested".
- Out with a Bang: George.
- Smart People Play Chess: One of the first clues of George's newfound intelligence is that he starts winning chess games against Doc Brunder.
- Though the first clue was mostly because Doc was just teaching him chess the night before, when a day later, he expertly beat him in said game.
- Super Intelligence: The main point of the movie.
- Super Speed Reading: George is seen reading a book simply by flipping through pages. At one point he claims to read 4 or 5 books a day.
- The Smart Guy: George and to a lesser extent Doc Brunder, who becomes overshadowed (and overawed) due to his abilities.