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The Pay it Forward movie poster is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it provides ruled paper as a background so whoever writes "suck my pussy" on all of the movie posters at the Lorimer stop on the L train can, once and for all, display their remarkable penmanship. More importantly, however, it reminds us all of the heavy weight stars that are in it. This film has Academy Award® Winner Kevin Spacey, Academy Award® Winner Helen Hunt and Academy Award® Nominee Haley Joel Osment. I have a running joke with my friends that if I were ever in a movie I would have my name legally changed to Academy Award Winner Robert Penty. This would instantly give me credibility.

Pay attention to all of the trailers that you see from now on, take note of the ones where they boast an Academy Award® winner or Academy Award® nominee. I've even seen trailers featuring Academy Award® winners Ben Affleck or Matt Damon for movies that they are starring in and haven't written. It's these pictures that are promising you drama, balls to the wall drama. We're talking puppies getting hit by cars kind of drama, lots of crying and passionate monologues. Get ready for triumph of the human spirit and a nice, happy ending.

Pay it Forward tells the story of Trevor McKinney (played by Haley Joel Osment) being raised by a single mother in Las Vegas, the representation of gratuitous sin. His mother, Arlene (played by Helen Hunt), is a struggling alcoholic cocktail waitress. The story is set in motion when Trevor's new teacher Mr. Simonet (played by Kevin Spacey) challenges the class to plan a way to change the world and put it into action. Soon, Trevor is bringing home Jerry (played by James Caviezel), a homeless man that he finds on the outskirts of town. This is the first step in Trevor's pay it forward plan. Do a big favor for three people, a favor that they couldn't do for themselves. Those three will then do a favor for three more people and so on. I'm not good with exponents but I think, executed correctly, that puts us approximately three weeks and two and a half days away from utopia.

Meanwhile, a little while into the future, a reporter's curiosity is piqued when he receives a new Jaguar from a wealthy lawyer who asks only that he pay it forward in return. The reporter (Jay Mohr) then tries to get to the start of the pay it forward idea.

Fortunately, the movie recognizes that the idea is a difficult one. Jerry fails to deliver on his promise to pay it forward. The unflinching success of pay it forward would have made this movie unbearable. Ultimately, it causes the people to think a bit about others. It's schmaltzy, but it's still noble.

The film's problems lie in its story telling and complete lack of authenticity. There's the inspirational teacher, the struggling alcoholic mother, the kind hearted child who wants to make the world a better place and the heroin addicted homeless man that he tries to help, even Jay Mohr's character is a stereotypical reporter with a nose for the news. There's nothing fresh about these characters. They're already trite before we meet them making them difficult to care about. The potential for interesting relationships, such as the teacher and the student or the romance between Arlene and Mr. Simonet, is left stilted and undeveloped.

The most interesting parts of the movie were revealed in impassioned monologues. Arlene breaks down and realizes that she needs help with her alcoholism, appealing to her son for help. There was a speech. There were tears. There was a hug. Then it was forgotten. Completely. It's ineffective and unbelievable. From the moment we see Mr. Simonet's scars, we want to know how he got them. This curiosity builds throughout the film as children react to them and it interferes with his relationship with Arlene. Finally, it's revealed and we're supposed to be satisfied with a monologue explaining this character's lifetime of dealing with this problem. That's a difficult job even for Academy Award® winner Kevin Spacey. All of the problems in this film, such as the return of Trevor's father (played by Jon Bon Jovi), are solved as quickly as they arise, crisis averted, problem solved.

Ineffective story telling aside, there's no excuse for the end of the film. It requires too much suspension of disbelief (particularly concerning six degrees of separation) and emotional involvement in the lives of these characters to be taken seriously. We haven't seen endings like this since Mr. Holland's Opus or Titanic. It pains me to admit that, sentimental sap that I am, those worked on me. This didn't. Of course, I'd like to believe in the power to change the world. I also hope that something like pay it forward could work because, one of these days, I'm going to want my $9.50 back.

-- Robert Penty

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