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PAY IT FORWARD ($25) is a movie that I really wanted to like a whole heck of a lot because of its star power and great performances. Unfortunately, I found the script to be heavy-handed and too manipulative for its own good- especially the ending. My overall reaction to PAY IT FORWARD, is a sort of ambivalence- I didn't love the film, but I didn't hate it either. I would image that in my mind, the performances counteracted the flaws that I perceived in the script.

The basic premise of PAY IT FORWARD is filled with good intentions and tells the story of how random acts of extreme kindness are traced back to a junior high school student, who was participating in a class project, in which he has to enact an idea that he feels will change the world for the better. Haley Joel Osment portrays Trevor McKinney, the student who was assigned the project by his social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey). For the project, Trevor comes up with the concept of "pay it forward," in which he does completely selfless acts for three other people. However, instead payback, the recipient of selfless act has to "pay it forward" by performing three selfless acts for three other people, who are then asked to "pay it forward" for three other people. In this way, the selfless acts will multiply exponentially and spread across the planet.

Of course, Trevor must begin the cycle by performing the first three selfless acts. However, Trevor's first selfless act is to help a homeless drug addict named Jerry (James Caviezel) to get back on his feet, which doesn't sit well with his recovering alcoholic mother Arlene (Helen Hunt), who is panic stricken to discover a stranger in her home. Trevor's second selfless act also meets with resistance from Arlene, as well as Trevor's social studies teacher, when she and Eugene discover that they have been blindsided and set up on a date by the boy. Finally, Trevor's third selfless act involves helping a friend at school, who is constantly being picked on by bullies.

Much of PAY IT FORWARD is concerned with watching Trevor's selfless acts bare fruit. Most notable is the relationship that develops between Arlene and Eugene, both of whom are vary of becoming involved, because of their personal scars, which are of the physical and psychological varieties. The film also removes itself several generations from the source, where we find a cynical reporter named Chris Chandler (Jay Mohr) tracing "pay it forward" back to its point of origin, after he himself becomes the recipient of a completely selfless act. This subplot, in addition to the ending, is where PAY IT FORWARD becomes particularly heavy-handed and emotionally manipulative. However, director Mimi Leder works well with her leading actors, allowing them enough breathing room to create some very fine character moments. The cast of PAY IT FORWARD also includes Jon Bon Jovi, Angie Dickinson, David Ramsey and Gary Werntz.

Warner Home Video has made PAY IT FORWARD available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Like any Hollywood "A" movie just coming off theatrical release, PAY IT FORWARD looks simply great on DVD. The image is very crisp and finely detailed, which highlights not only the interiors, but the Las Vegas desert that serves as a backdrop for the story. Most of the colors are fairly vivid, while the flesh tones remain completely convincing. There are no problems with chroma noise or smearing during the presentation. Blacks are generally on the money and there is always a healthy dose of shadow detail. The film element used for the transfer is very clean, with the only flaw being a hairline scratch that ran down the center of the frame for a couple of seconds. Clean dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts out of sight.

PAY IT FORWARD is a dialogue driven drama, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is not of the showy variety. Sound effects do utilize the discrete properties of the format, but the implementation is very subtle. The surround channels see the least activity, but they do provide the requisite ambience and musical fill, as well as occasional active effects. Dialogue reproduction is very clean and fully intelligible. I doubt that anyone will notice if the bass channel is there, since it is rarely required by the subject matter. Thomas Newman's score is nicely recorded and l reproduced with a highly musical quality. A French 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Director Mimi Leder provides an informative running audio commentary, that some may feel is a bit slow at times. Maybe adding a few cast members to the track would have livened things up. The HBO First Look Special The Making of Pay it Forward is also included on the DVD. Running thirteen minutes, this is a standard PR piece, with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. A theatrical trailer and cast filmographies close out the DVD’s extras.

PAY IT FORWARD is not the Oscar caliber film that the studio was hoping for due to its manipulative script. Still, this movie is worth checking out for its fine performances by Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. Warner's DVD looks great and sounds just fine, so if you are going to pick up PAY IT FORWARD anyway, make sure it's on disc and not tape.


Pay it Forward


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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