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Bams' review of
Pay It Forward


Pay It Forward (2000)
Rated PG-13; running time 125 minutes
Genre: Drama
Seen at: Celebration Cinema (Lansing, Michigan)
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Leslie Dixon (based on the book by Catherine Ryan Hyde)
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment, Jay Mohr, James Caviezel, Jon Bon Jovi, Angie Dickinson, David Ramsey, Kathleen Wilhoite

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

Pay It Forward had Great Expectations writ large on its marquee, between the lines that read "Oscar Winner Kevin Spacey...Oscar Winner Helen Hunt...Oscar Nominee Haley Joel Osment". With that burden thrust upon this flick, you might say that anything less than Sheer Brilliance just wouldn't do.

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
A Los Angeles crime reporter (Jay Mohr) has his Ford Mustang thrashed by a criminal fleeing the police. Left stranded when the cops go after the bad guy, reporter Chris Chandler is taken aback when a complete stranger tosses him the keys to his Jaguar and tells Chris to take it, no strings attached. Of course, Chris doesn't trust the stranger's generosity, and is extremely hesitant to take his completely unexpected gift; but the stranger simply walks away, leaving the reporter aghast.

Four months earlier in Las Vegas...

On the first day of seventh grade, 11-year-old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) is confronted on the one hand by the threat of violence in his school; and on the other hand, by the chance to be able to make a difference, offered to him by Social Studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey). But even Mr. Simonet, a mysteriously-scarred man who challenged Trevor and his classmates to defy the world's expectations of them by doing something big over the next school year that could change their world, could not have imagined the impact his lofty challenge would have on not only Trevor, but also Trevor's alcoholic mother Arlene (Helen Hunt), her family, people they may never meet - and even Eugene himself.

"Sheer Brilliance"? Nope, 'fraid not. Pay It Forward was good, even excellent in spots; and were it not for the Oscar hype, that may have been just fine. Whether its shortcomings impact on next years' awards, is an exercise best left for more skillful prognosticators than me. In the meantime, I took the movie for what it was, and enjoyed it warts 'n all.

And brudda, what warts it had. From the jacked-up look of (miscast, I say) Helen Hunt as Trevor's wrung-out alkie casino waitress mother, to Kevin Spacey's Simonet, a man whose scars outside are only the tip of the iceberg of the Issues within his soul, to the unkempt homeless Jerry (James Caviezel, looking quite unlike the handsome cop he played in Frequency - much to his credit), to wizened old street lady Grace (Angie Dickinson, a long way past her Police Woman prime, though her eyes still have their sparkle) - almost all the characters touched by Trevor's "pay it forward" idea, have some sort of Ugliness they're trying to hide. Even those - like Trevor's no-account drunk dad Ricky (Jon Bon Jovi in a much ado about nothing role), and the humorous con man Sidney (David Ramsey) - whose good looks mask what's underneath the surface.

Perhaps it's just that issue - the feeling that everybody had Something To Hide - that was my main gripe with Pay It Forward. Granted, a two hour movie having Random Acts Of Kindness performed as prepayment to people (like the reporter) who weren't in true need, might be rather dull or unnecessarily comical; and yes, the whole point behind Trevor's assignment was that the task would take effort to accomplish. But would it have been too much to ask to throw another Ordinary Joe in the mix somewhere? It's a minor quibble, though, all things considered.

Though the ObRomance between Eugene and Arlene (complete with ObDiscoveries on both their parts) was telegraphed almost from the opening credits, the surprise ending made up for that, with enough time left for the movie to go over-the-top just before the ending credits. Still, the lesson of Pay It Forward - that we can make a difference in this world - is not one to easily dismiss. I think it'd be a kick if there was a Trevor McKinney in my neck of the woods. It's not so foolish to believe that The Children really are Our Future, is it?

THE "BLACK FACTOR"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]

This'll be a bit convoluted - and, I warn you now, a bit profane - but bear with me; there's a Point under all the twists and turns.

I think the whole "Politically Correct" concept is, frankly, a crock of shit. It is a clarion call generally uttered by those who need an excuse to show their ass in public, but don't have the balls to live with the consequences of having an honest opinion (usually for good reason, because most times, these "PC" wailers also don't have the knowledge to back up the opinions they hold)...

...but on the other hand, there are some facts that need to be faced: there are an overabundance of "nigga"-spouting knuckleheads running around out there, and way too many of them occupying jail cells for whatever reason. And - facing facts again - more of them than are proportionally called for, are Black.

So while it was noteworthy and somewhat disturbing that knuckleheaded Sidney [who David Ramsey played with comic glee. Sorry, Sidney was funny. That happens sometimes.] was the sole picture of Blackness in this movie, I am not so blind to the picture that Sidney's fellow knuckleheads have painted for themselves, and can only hope that, in MovieLand, Sidney's ironically heroic act will redeem him as much as it did all the other scarred souls whom Trevor touched.

Pay It Forward didn't have the oomph that one might expect, given the sheer star power of three Oscar nominees/winners that fueled it; and Helen Hunt was just the wrong choice for Trevor's warmed-over mother, in my view. Still, the surprise ending, and my absolute adoration of Kevin Spacey, won me over. Sure, I may be jaded, but I'd still like to think that the idea behind Pay It Forward, could actually be achieved.


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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed week of 10/20/00):

Bams' reviews:
Bamboozled | Pay It Forward | Bedazzled
The Legend Of Drunken Master

The Diva's reviews:
Bamboozled | Pay It Forward | Bedazzled

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