Directed By Mimi Leder
By: Eric G.
Haley Joel Osment needs to be a crack dealer in his next movie if he wants to avoid being the most hated kid in Hollywood. I recommend hooking up with Bobcat Goldthwait for Shakes The Clown 2: Clowns get Gonorrhea Too. If he keeps playing the expressive child prodigy he’ll be in a dumpster in three years with a trail of blood leading to the Olsen twins.
Pay It Forward is a dumb idea. It’s the wish fulfillment of that lame bumper sticker “Random Acts Of Kindness Happen”, which is always plastered on the back of a car with a collection of Beanie Babies in the back window. I don’t think Kevin Spacey really believes in crap do-gooder hippie new age bullshit like that, anyway. He probably just wanted to hook up with Helen Hunt now that she and Hank Azaria are on the rocks and what better way than through a sappy, Lifetime Channel script based on a book that would have Oprah’s audience violently shaking away the tears.
The movie isn’t totally awful, though. When the script allows for some believable scenes Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt are semi-watchable, and Jay Mohr is mildly amusing as a typically amoral reporter hunting down the “phenomenon” of Pay It Forward. Haley Joel Osment, on the other hand, is ACTING way too hard. He’s the kid you really wanted to beat the shit out of in middle school with his perfect understanding and execution of pointless assignments in Social Studies class when you were just trying to flick eraser bits without getting caught.
I can barely even bring myself to go into the story. It’s so unbelievably cheesy it embarrasses me to think about it. Spacey and Hunt wade knee-deep through cliches with their burgeoning love affair, but each possesses almost enough acting chops to pull it off without making you wince. Almost. But Angie Dickinson as a hobo? Come on. Heroin addicts behaving altruistically? Please. From the director of Deep Impact you’d expect some sort of natural disaster or at least some semblance of action. Instead, all you get is a string of fairy tale improbabilities as Leder tries to restore man’s faith in his fellow man, using the innocence of a child’s perspective to trick you into her torpid agenda.
The ending is over the top. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say the end is so manipulative it’s tacky. I half-expected to see Elton John perched at a golden piano singing Candle In The Wind dressed as Count Chocula. Speaking of bad ideas, the person in charge of deciding what songs to feature needs to be horsewhipped. I thought the actual score was fairly inventive, though, until I realized it was trying to rip-off of American Beauty’s surrealistic interpretation of suburban ennui (insert scenes of Haley Joel Osment riding his bike for American Beauty’s omniscient camera work in suburbia and you’ll know what I mean).
Pay It Forward is Kevin Spacey’s Forrest Gump, but you can’t have it both ways in Hollywood. It’s either American Beauty or Forrest Gump. Cutting edge or mainstream mush. Once you slip into the mainstream mush cycle it’s hard to turn back. Come on Kevin. Make the right choice.