Pay It Forward

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Kevin Spacey
Helen Hunt
Haley Joel Osment
Jay Mohr
Angie Dickinson
Jim Caviezel
Jon Bon Jovi

directed by
Mimi Leder

Haley Joel Osment, that kid from The Sixth Sense, stars as a Las Vegas seventh-grader named Trevor McKinney. The school year has just started as we meet Trevor as well as his new Social Studies teacher, Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey). A man who likes to use a big vocabulary, Simonet gives his class a year-long extra credit assignment: he wants them to look at the world around them and do something that will make a difference.

Trevor decides to try out a “random act of kindness” project called “Pay It Forward”, which works like so: a) you have to do something that really helps people b) it has to be something they can’t do by themselves and c) each person has to return the favor by doing something for three other people. He first tries to help a homeless man (Jim Caviezel) by bringing him home to dinner. That doesn’t really pan out. Then, he attempts to bring the lonely (and somewhat horribly disfigured) Mr. Simonet together with his overworked, alcoholic single mother Arlene (Helen Hunt). His mother is up for it, but Simonet isn’t too keen on the idea (this is partially due to his disfigurement, the other part having to do with some deep emotional scars inside).

The idea had potential, but Leslie Dixon’s screenplay decided to forgo any sort of real dialogue or characters (both which are really vital to a movie such as this) in lieu of making the characters clichs that have tragedy A to Z happen to them while spewing out speeches instead of everyday words. If there isn’t a tragedy going on up on the screen at any given time, fear not. Another one is probably about 30 seconds away and there is a big speech from the person suffering at that time right behind the tragedy.

Having such a ham-fisted director like Mimi Leder to amplify the screenplay’s problems to the nth degree only makes it worse. Leder started her career directing television and boy, does it show here. The framing of the shots look like they were composed for TV (I kept waiting to go to a commercial), as does the overall structure of the production. Leder’s touchy feely directing not only pushes our manipulative buttons, it kicks them through the back of our throats. I didn’t feel one genuine emotion during the entire 122-minute running time, not once (okay, I did feel one: nausea). The fact that she literally ripped off the final image of Field Of Dreams makes me hate her (and the movie) all the more.

Even the cast is ho-hum, which is shocking given the leads of the film. Spacey seems to be on autopilot here, almost as if he was in some sort of drug-induced daze, only to come out of it when it is time for him to deliver his “Oscar Clip” speech. Hunt is basically playing a trailer trash relative of her character from As Good As It Gets (and boy, did she look awful in this film). As for Osment, this is merely a rehash of his The Sixth Sense character (minus the emotional impact and the ability to see ghosts). Granted, they had utter crap to work with, but these stars are big (and talented) enough to make things click if they wanted to.

Pay It Forward is a movie tailor made for people who have the endurance to sit through television shows like Touched By An Angel and ‘Providence’ and actually admit to liking them. This schmaltzy, poorly written and badly directed tearjerker didn’t want to make me go out and change the world by helping people. Instead, it made me feel like going out and punching someone, namely the film’s director, a television hack by the name of Mimi Leder (also responsible for two other humdingers, The Peacemaker and Deep Impact).

I would like to take the time to adhere the mantra of Pay It Forward and do this for not only three people, but for everyone who might have read this review: please, skip this film. You won’t be helping anyone by dishing out nine bucks to watch this bleeding-heart liberal wet dream. As a matter of fact, you will wind up doing more harm than good.

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