Pay It Forward

By Mark Ramsey | 2000/10/11

Who would have guessed there’s so much unhappiness and strife in the shadow of that most glittery of towns with legalized prostitution, Las Vegas? Not me!

Pay It Forward has its heart in the right place. It’s a story of do-gooders who do good so the done good for do good for more. Got it? Good. If PAX TV had a virus, this would be it. Although Diagnosis Murder is pretty close to a virus if you ask me.


Helen Hunt is a single mom with a drinking problem, a busted truck, and a deadbeat ex-husband, Jon Bon Jovi, who’s often confused with Eddie Van Halen, except the former gives love a bad name and the latter might as well jump.

Helen’s not just mad about you, she’s mad about everything. She’s mad at her little boy, Haley Joel Osment, who nowadays sees only the dead people who plunk quarters into slot machines. She’s mad at Haley’s teacher, Kevin Spacey, for challenging his kids with an assignment that has too much to do with making the world a better place and not enough to do with vocational prep for Blackjack U.

Kevin teaches social studies and how not to dress in social situations. Not only doesn’t he see a correlation between shoes and outfit, but they might as well be matter and anti-matter. In his mind, anyway, it’s no matter.

Kevin is horribly scarred physically and emotionally, but that’s still no excuse for the shoes. This footwear doesn’t come in “right” and “left,” just one size facing both ways. Is this the Jaclyn Smith Menswear collection? Does Jordache make shoes?

Kevin’s challenge to his students: Think of an idea to change the world and put it into action – much like Al Gore did with the Internet and Jane Fonda did with Barbarella. Haley decides to help three people in a way they can’t help themselves. Then they must help three other people and “pay it forward.” So three helped people beget nine beget twenty-seven beget a new story arc for Touched By An Angel.


My favorite character in this movie is bag lady Angie Dickinson, whose credits are summed up in the production notes with “Police Woman,” “Ocean’s Eleven”. Ocean’s Eleven?! That movie has fewer survivors than a CBS reality show!

Shaken, stirred, and pickled Angie lives in her car with an abundance of bottles and a tragic scarcity of glasses. The glove compartment-slash-mini-bar is stocked with whiskey and enough eye-liner to circle the globe thirteen times.

One look at Angie’s homeless mug and you sense that Police Woman has transformed into Cosmetic Surgery Woman! A heroine whose super-powered nips and tucks and X-Ray face peel vision make the world safe for taut, semi-immobile cheeks and supernaturally perky noses. Cosmetic Surgery Woman is just back from Sidney, where a left cheek was drafted for Olympic trampoline duty.

Pay It Forward is not as good as it wants to be because its trajectory is so obvious from the get-go. Everything you expect to happen does, except for the missing scene with the cuddly kittens which, I’m guessing, is holding out for the DVD.

With a cast this good and a message this positive, it’s a shame there isn’t as much meat on the bones as spirit in the soul.

Photos Copyright ©2000 Warner Brothers


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