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Pay It Forward

Director:Mimi Leder
Writer:Leslie Dixon
Warner Bros.; 155 minutes; PG-13
Cast:Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment

Las Vegas overflows with confidence men but is low on trust, which is why the desert oasis makes such an appropriate setting for Pay It Forward. This feel-good film is rigged from the start. A competent cast prevents the corn syrup sweetness from bubbling over until the last half.

Instructed by his scarred-yet-tender schoolteacher Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey), young Trevor (The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment) dreams up a scheme to make the world a better place. Each participant performs a hearty favor for three other people. Each recipient must then “pay it forward” and bring about serious goodness for three other folks. Trevor attempts to pair his struggling alcoholic mother (Helen Hunt) with wary Mr. Simonet. Both adults harbor injuries, and the appearance of an abusive father (Jon Bon Jovi) only serves to complicate matters. In the meantime, Trevor's kindness design explodes with exponential popularity.

Pay It Forward clearly subscribes to the Touched by an Angel school of filmmaking. Spacey, for example, relishes his role, but bleaches out the subtle smarminess that gives his characters their vital kick. Osment looks upon the world with his doleful eyes, resilient and hopeful. The movie wants tears, however. Plot and soundtrack surge out of believability, crashing straight into melodrama's insidious comfort.

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