Pay It Forward
dir. Mimi Leder
Opens Fri Oct 20 at Metro, Oak Tree, others.

AFTER SEEING The Sixth Sense, I promised myself if I were ever to be blessed with a son, I'd raise him to be just like Haley Joel Osment. He'd be humble, conversational, cordial to adults, and he'd wear a monkey suit with panache. If he did choose to go into the performing arts, his genuineness and fine upbringing would be among the first things reviews of his work would mention. Now having seen Osment in Mimi Leder's new film Pay It Forward, I'd like to smash him his ever-pursed, indignant little puss.

Pay It Forward is supposed to be one of those chest-swelling, motivating films that proves, once and for all, that everyone has extreme goodness in them, be they burn victims, alcoholics, heroin addicts, homeless old ladies, gun-toting criminals, playground thugs, litigators, or yes, even members of the press. It succeeds in its goal, but what a painfully maudlin, overacted, simplistic goddamn journey it takes its viewers on to get there. Drunks and addicts, recovering or not, are shitty, ugly people who deserve to be homeless or beaten, or work at crappy jobs. And apparently it's only this kind of damaged person whose responsibility it is to change the world for everybody else by helping people in advance. Osment's character, at the request of his scarred social studies teacher (Kevin Spacey in ill-attached prosthetic burns), has been instructed to make the world a benevolent place to live in. So he starts at the bottom, where the bums live amid burning oil cans, of course.

About five minutes into his effort, Osment thinks he's failed and that the world is, in fact, shit--and then it's another hour or so of the kid throwing fits and crowding the audience out of the theater with his ever-swelling bottom lip. Unbeknownst to him, his preposterous plan has taken on a life of its own, and by God, it's working, and the audience is smiling and crying despite having seen Spacey and Helen Hunt (Osment's alcoholic mother) doing the deed. It's a performance that'll probably earn somebody an Oscar. It just made me feel like kicking a kid in the teeth.

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