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By Ron Wells | October 20, 2000

That thumping sound you just heard was me taking off the kid gloves to throw down the gauntlet. This ain’t gonna be pretty. I’m sure the studio and the producers thought they had a real winner on their hands. After all, the movie has a MEssAGE. It also has a pair of Oscar winners in stars Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. Haley Joel Osment is the real star, though, and even he got a nomination for “The Sixth Sense”. The kid’s got talent. Too bad the poor guy is in such horribly over-rated films, LIKE THIS ONE.
It’s his first day at a Las Vegas middle school, and 11-year-old Trevor McKinney (Osment) begins with an introduction to his tightly wound and horribly burned teacher, Eugene Simonet (Spacey). While the boy’s white-trash alcoholic mother, Arlene (Hunt), is too busy working double shifts as a cocktail waitress, Trevor finds inspiration from Mr. Simonet’s first assignment: Think of a way to make the world a better place.
Our sensitive boy genius strikes inspiration with the idea to… PAY IT FORWARD. If you haven’t got this down from the trailers, it goes something like this: one person begins by doing one major favor for someone else. Instead of paying the favor back, that person then does three major favors for three other people, then they do the same. The idea is that even if some people slack off, the chain of good can continue to grow. It’s not such a bad idea. The movie’s website even offers up a list of charities to help you out. However, the quality of a lesson or idea does not automatically justify the manner in which it is delivered.
The film does express the fact that, even if you don’t know if the favor actually did any good, it’s important that you make the attempt. Unfortunately, the movie’s heavy-handed lessons are presented through so much bullshit Lifetime-Channel psycho-drama that the biggest favor I could do for the rest of the audience was to hold down my lunch during the excruciating final hour. For one of his favors, Trevor attempts to pair up his teacher and his mother. Eventually, his drunk, absentee father (Jon Bon Jovi, no I’m not kidding) turns up, as well as his drunk, homeless grandmother (Angie Dickenson, still not kidding). Of course, personal healing and strengthened self-esteem ensue.
I could have dealt with the rampant mediocrity and underwritten characters if it hadn’t been for one thing: the ending. I became more pissed off the longer I thought about it. Now we at Film Threat might give one or no stars to movies that are merely bad. When films cross the line from bad to offensive, we drop down into the negative zone (If not properly reflected above, this film should be negative one star). To properly express why “Pay It Forward” is so bad, I will have to do the one thing that I’ve sworn never to do, reveal the ending. If you don’t want to know, stop reading this review now.
One of the other favors Trevor attempts is to help his friend Adam against the daily beatings he receives at the hands of a trio of school bullies. The first time our boy tries to intervene, he chickens out. Later, he does find the nerve to protect his pal, but after two of the nasty children pin Trevor down, the third kid pulls out a previously seen knife and stabs him. He dies.
None of these minor characters are developed. They have almost no lines of dialogue. The distinguishing characteristics are more than a little disturbing. Adam appears to be a small Jewish child, while the bullies all appear to be Hispanic.
What’s the point here? Such events among children so young are extremely rare in real life. Worse, Trevor was no threat by that point as two of the boys had already restrained him before the knife had even appeared.
That racial issue can be easy to overlook due to the problem that the final ten minutes is completely unjustified by the rest of the film. The only purpose would seem to be to extract the maximum amount of tears from the audience. The resulting pathos allows the cast to beg for second Oscars. As Spacey’s character is both deformed AND a teacher, he would seem to be the most desperate. If Hunt wanted it that badly, her part would have been a drunk, a mother, AND a prostitute.
At the end of the movie, the audience I was in applauded. Mindless sheep, one and all. I suspect that a martyred child and an IMPORTANT MEssAGE were all they needed to convince them of what a masterpiece they had just seen. Other filmmakers would do well to keep that in mind. If I make my own damn movie, I promise to pop a kid every ten minutes or so just to hold your attention.
Doesn’t this garbage just confuse the lesson? What I took away was the message that in the end, sticking your face in to help your fellow man may only result in the loss of your own head. It should make you think twice about ever getting involved.
I guess this would be my big favor to you. Hopefully, I’ve now prevented three people from seeing this film, and now they will each prevent three other people from doing the same. If it goes far enough, maybe someday we can all go to a multiplex free of shallow, sermonizing Hollywood horse-s**t. Somehow, I doubt that will ever happen. At least I tried.

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