Pay It Forward

Rated 2.0 A middle-school student (Haley Joel Osment) hatches a plan to improve the world: Doing big favors for three different people, then getting each of them to “pay it forward” by passing the favor on to three others. What might have been a pleasant little feel-good movie about doing good deeds bogs down ino a soap opera by veering off on a dreary tangent about the romance between the boy’s alcoholic mother (Helen Hunt) and his social-studies teacher (Kevin Spacey). The three stars are excellent, but their performances can’t make the turgid story interesting. As if to acknowledge defeat, the script (by Leslie Dixon, from Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel) pulls a tear-jerker ending out of the hat—a real cheap shot and a shameless Hail Mary to the tear ducts—hoping for a warmth the film hasn’t earned.