Director Mimi Leder's third movie, Pay it Forward
, finds her moving into softer, more intimate territory after making her name with a pair of high-budget action spectaculars, The Peacemaker
and Deep Impact
. This is a would-be heart-warming fable about the power of human kindness, but it's handled with such heavy sententiousness as to suggest that she might do better sticking to the big-bang stuff. Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense
), son of a struggling lone parent (Helen Hunt) in Las Vegas, is influenced by inspirational teacher Kevin Spacey to come up with a scheme for social betterment: do acts of benevolence to three people, each of whom then does something good for three more, and so on. Inevitably, the lad's first ventures come to grief, but then the idea starts catching on and spreading, and a reporter in Los Angeles gets wind of it. This Readers Digest
-ish scenario, treated with great solemnity by Leder and screenwriter Leslie Dixon, leaves the cast struggling to make something individual out of their pre-cooked roles. As you'd expect given such a line-up of acting talent, several scenes come off better than they deserve, and Spacey in particular does wonders with what is, in effect, two Hollywood clichés rolled into one: not just "offbeat inspirational teacher" but "shy, reclusive burns victim" as well. Interesting, too, to see a Vegas-set movie that shows a low-rent side of the city well away from the glitz and glamour of the Strip. But in the end, all else is drowned out by the clatter of predetermined plot-points being hammered home.
On the DVD: Extras include a commentary from Leder, and a 13-minute "making-of" documentary that includes cast and director interviews. None of it, though, tells us much we couldn't have gathered from the movie. The clean widescreen (1.85:1) print and the Dolby 5.1 sound deliver on quality, and come fully into their own in the all-out bravura finale--shameless tear-jerking on a grand scale. --Philip Kemp