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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 10/19/2000,

Pay It Forward

I didn't buy the concept for this movie, in which Trevor (Haley Joel Osment, tormented in this case by living people), a young kid from a troubled home (his mom, Arlene, is played by Helen Hunt, reprising her As Good As It Gets role), comes up with an idea to change the world by doing a good deed for three strangers, who in lieu of paying him back would "pay it forward" to three more people in a kind of pyramid scheme of altruism. My variation on the idea could be called "pan it forward." You see a film, hate it, and warn off three people, who then go out and do the same.

Not that Pay It Forward is awful. It's a slick job of manipulation in which director Mimi Leder shows more skill at squeezing tearducts than she did at pumping adrenaline with her previous action adventures, Deep Impact and The Peacemaker. Trevor's teacher Eugene (Kevin Spacey, whose sourball act is getting stale) starts all the trouble when he assigns his class a project to change the world and Trevor begins by bringing a homeless man to lunch. The eventual consequences get pretty melodramatic, as you'd imagine from a filmmaker with a penchant for big explosions. My objection? Watching Oscar-winning and -nominated actors feign emotions in a story that exploits child abuse, alcoholism, school violence, and drug addiction for cheap entertainment.

-- Peter Keough