Pay It Forward (12)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/01/2001

One out of five stars
Running time: 123 mins

Appallingly manipulative tear-jerker: a good idea and some nice performances, smothered by an overdose of sickly sentimentality – avoid at all costs.

You could be forgiven for being excited about this – the poster proudly trumpets Oscar-winners Spacey and Hunt and Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment (the kid from The Sixth Sense). Sadly, although all three actors put in good work, the film (based on a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde) is ruined by an utterly appalling ending that will have you demanding your money back.

The plot telegraphs its syrupy nonsense from the beginning. Osment (easily the best thing in the film, giving a faultless performance) is Trevor McKinney, a lonely 12-year old kid whose mum (Helen Hunt) is a 'recovering' alcoholic who nonetheless works double-shifts as a cocktail waitress! (Does that sound like a recovering alcoholic to you? Some sort of 'temptation therapy' perhaps? No - just a stupid plot-point that goes unanswered).

Anyway, horribly-burned Kevin Spacey is Trevor's teacher (just how he got burned is such a horrendously over-the-top story that it's actually almost funny) who sets the class the project of changing the world. Trevor, after giving it about five minutes thought, comes up with the ‘Pay It Forward’ scheme, whereby you do three people a huge favour and instead of paying it back they pay it FORWARD to three other people, who each have to do the same, and so on.

Trevor then immediately helps out Homeless Heroin Addict Jim Caveziel ("Hey, homeless guy - come round to mine for cereal and a shower!"), emotionally-as-well-as-physically-scarred Spacey and a little-bullied-kid-with-no-lines-and-no-character-development. So far, so predictable.

But things start to go wrong and Osment thinks he’s failed, except all the time we know he hasn't because the film actually starts with Jay Mohr's reporter tracking down the source of the Pay It Forward scheme from L.A, four months into the future (so to speak).

This is annoying, because the parts of the film where the Pay It Forward scheme are shown to be working are among the more interesting sections and it would have helped the suspense of the film if the journalist had been introduced halfway through, instead of right at the beginning.

It’s impossible to truly describe how bad the film is without revealing the ending. Suffice it to say that, having spent the entire film telling us we should Help Each Other Out, the film-makers then turn round and give you a pretty good reason NOT to help each other out, after all, before unleashing the mother of all intended tear-jerking scenes, which comes across as just plain insulting.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

There are one or two points of interest. The first is that the film is, unusually, set in Las Vegas –Spacey’s classroom for example, has an eye-catching view of the desert. (That’s right – the film is so atrocious, you’ll actually find yourself looking out of the window.) The second is the acting of Osment and Hunt, who has one particular morning-after ‘ugly-scene’ that will have audience members gasping in horror.

However, these points in no way compensate for the presence of Jon Bon Jovi as Haley’s abusive, alcoholic absent father, nor for the sheer ridiculousness of Angie Dickinson’s platinum blonde ‘bag-lady’ who can apparently scrub up and be presentably sober at will Also, be prepared for the vomit-inducing soundtrack that includes songs with blatantly manipulative lyrics such as ‘Calling all Angels’.

At one point there was some serious Oscar buzz surrounding this. Fortunately, its spectacular belly-flop at the US box office seems to have put paid to any Oscar chances, and with luck it will disappear swiftly here too. Avoid like your life depended on it, and tell three friends the same thing!!

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Content updated: 22/10/2017 19:56

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