Picks and Pans Review: Pay It Forward
This movie is about how each and every single one of us can make a difference in the world by doing a good deed. Here's mine: I'm urging you now to shun Pay It Forward, a sanctimonious stinker. Not since the loathsome Patch Adams (1998) has Hollywood turned out such a self-congratulatory, preachy pile of hokum in which big stars make a conspicuous show of playing little people. It's indicative of this inspirational drama's idea of verisimilitude that when glamorpuss Dickinson turns up as a whisky-swilling bag lady, you figure the former star of TV's Police Woman (1974-78) must be undercover. I kept waiting for her to toss the ratty wig, whip out her .45 and yell, "Freeze." No such luck.
Osment, the talented, mournful-faced child from The Sixth Sense, here does an equally skillful job playing Trevor McKinney, an 11-year-old living in Las Vegas who takes to heart an assignment from his social studies teacher (Spacey): "Think of an idea to change our world and—put it into action!" Trevor devises a plan he calls "Pay It Forward," the notion being that one helps three other people in need and then they, paying it forward, do the same for three more folks, and so on. Putting his plan into action, the boy helps a homeless man (James Caviezel) get his life together and then moves on to playing Cupid between his single mother (Hunt), a blowsy cocktail waitress too fond of the libations she serves, and his melancholy teacher, whose badly burned face masks even deeper emotional scars.
Based on a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde and directed with a heavy hand by Mimi Leder (Deep Impact), Pay It Forward lapses into melodramatic schmaltz early on and never recovers. And there's a tearjerker ending so overinflated you will find yourself wishing for a humongous pin with which to prick the screen. Hunt, best at playing smart, sensible types, is badly miscast, pitching her performance too high by screeching whenever possible. Spacey is asked to do the impossible—play a character who suffers for all of our sins. Try fitting that into a single line reading. (PG-13)
Bottom Line: Pay it no mind