Pay It Forward

Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment

Directed by Mimi Leder
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
October 20, 2000

Random acts of kindness — both Gore and Dubya can get behind an idea like that. And they can both get behind this generically "inspirational" movie. Not since Gump has there been such a pandering, faux-virtuous package of populist pap for Hollywood to shove in the faces of electioneering politicos and say: Look, we don't just market unwholesome swill to families, we market wholesome swill, too.

Man, oh, man, is this a lousy movie. And it comes from smart people who should know better. Kevin Spacey, covered in burn-scar makeup, plays Eugene Simonet, a social-studies teacher in Las Vegas who gives his seventh-grade class an assignment: Figure out a way to make the world a better place.

Student Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) takes him up on it. Trevor's having a tough go of life. His alcoholic mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), fresh from throwing out her abusive husband, Ricky (Jon Bon Jovi), slings drinks at a strip club to support her son and her own booze habit. So Trevor hatches a plan: He'll do good deeds for three strangers, who must do good deeds for three other strangers, and so on until goodness rules. Not pay it back, but pay it forward.

I haven't read the Catherine Ryan Hyde novel on which the film is based, but the script, by Leslie Dixon (The Thomas Crown Affair), is of an unvaried ineptitude that confirms your worst fears that Trevor will become a cult hero, play matchmaker to his mom and teacher, and tragedy will strike.

Director Mimi Leder's TV work on ER and China Beach revealed a gift for heart without hooey, a gift that she has misplaced. If you rate actors by how little you catch them acting, then prepare to pass out failing grades. Blubbery confessionals don't suit Spacey, a master of irony in his Oscar-winning roles in American Beauty and The Usual Suspects. Fellow Oscar winner Hunt fares even worse. She's doing the tarty, single-mom Erin Brockovich thing, with push-up bras, hair extensions and raccoon eye makeup, but her performance is shrill to the max. Only Osment, the Sixth Sense wonder boy, shows dimension and subtlety, that is, until the script turns him into a cardboard saint. Crass manipulation can clean up at the box office, so do your part: Nail this flick as a bottom feeder and pay the bad word forward to three others. That's a true act of kindness.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories


    The Commodores | 1984

    The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

    More Song Stories entries »