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Movie Review

It’s a premise with promise. A seventh-grade teacher challenges his students to change the world. One does by creating an altruistic domino effect called Pay It Forward. The rules are simple: 1) It has to be something big that really helps people, 2) It must be something they can’t do for themselves, and 3) The benefactor has to aid three other people in need. Sounds great. Touched by an Angel with an all-star cast? Sadly, no.

Osment plays Trevor, an aw-shucks 11-year-old who lives on the outskirts of Las Vegas with his mom (Hunt), a brusque, promiscuous alcoholic who works at a casino by day and a strip club by night. One of Trevor’s good deeds involves fixing her up with his teacher, Mr. Simonet (Spacey), a fastidious loner as badly scarred physically as his mother is emotionally. After a rough start, the couple come to grips with their issues—in bed.

Sexual immorality is just one problem with Pay It Forward. Frequent profanity is another (even Osment utters a few choice words). Furthermore, the filmmakers create the seediest backdrop possible for Trevor’s nobility. Vagrants. Drug and alcohol abusers. Knife-wielding kids. Despite good points about forgiveness, the fallout from addiction and the need to reach out to struggling strangers, the message is humanistic. God has no place in the recovery of individuals or society. And the final act is tragic. What could’ve been the feel-good movie of the year evolves as if written by a twelve-stepping descendent of Theodore Dreiser.

Simonet asks his bright-eyed social studies class, "What if the world is a big disappointment?" Answer: They’ll feel like I did after watching this film.

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