NEW YORK — After earning raves and Oscar buzz for his role as the boy who could see dead people in “The Sixth Sense,” 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment has signed on to join Kevin Spacey in “Pay It Forward,” the Mimi Leder-directed film that Steve Reuther’s Bel Air has set for a February 2000 start date. Warner Bros. will distribute the film.

Pic is a Leslie Dixon-scripted adaptation of the Catherine Ryan Hyde novel about a young student who takes up a challenge from his cynical and scarred teacher: make the world a better place. The boy conceives the “pay it forward” system in which a person does a good turn for a stranger. That person doesn’t pay him back, but rather pays forward by doing a good deed for another stranger, who continues the cycle. The boy takes in a homeless person to the consternation of his harried mother. She takes up the issue with the teacher, and they start a relationship.

To Reuther, the inspiring story is galvanized by the boy, who comes to an untimely demise during the film. After Osment showed startling poise and maturity with difficult subject matter in the sleeper blockbuster “The Sixth Sense,” Reuther moved the film’s schedule to accommodate the young actor.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that he’s doing the film at such a unique moment in his career after ‘Sixth Sense,’ ” Reuther said. “Despite his young age, he has the dignity and the authority to play the martyr figure in the movie.”

Reuther now has two films starting production in February: “Pay it Forward” and the remake of “Sweet November,” to which Keanu Reeves is committing. Bel Air has yet to close a lead actress to join Spacey and Osment. An offer’s out to Oscar-winner Helen Hunt, who has been deciding between that and the Mel Gibson starrer “What Women Want,” which Nancy Meyers will direct. Bel Air exec veep Alex Schwartz is overseeing the film.

Osment is managed by Meredith Fine.