The Ultimate Gift

The Ultimate Gift, a film adaptation of Jim Stovall’s inspirational novel of the same name, is the slightly predictable, massively preachy tale of a spoiled young trust-fund brat who learns – through a series of tests… I mean “gifts” – that money isn’t everything.

When Jason Stevens’ (Drew Fuller of TV’s Charmed) uber-wealthy grandfather Red (James Garner in what he says is his final film role) dies, he watches as the will is read and each member of his family is left with much less than anticipated. Jason’s inheritance is last and most suprirsing: a series of 12 “gifts” that he must complete in order to claim his so-called “Ultimate Gift”. As Jason sets out to complete the challenge, under the watchful eye of two of his grandfather’s elder colleagues, he finds himself on a journey of self-discovery beyond anything he’s imagined… or so we’re told.

In an unfortunate and, hopefully unintentional, cross between Seventh Heaven and Hot Shots! Part Deux, The Ultimate Gift becomes so message-laden that it almost begins to parody itself. As Jason finds himself facing each new challenge, sunglasses tilted just so, smirk firmly in place, the audience is to believe that vast amounts of time pass and much knowledge is bestowed upon our hero. He is forced to do a month of manual labor, has all of his possessions taken away, and even gets a hold placed on his bank accounts. Yet not only do his hair and attitude never change, he constantly has a new set of clothes. At one point, while on a mission to seek a “true friend”, he apparently sleeps on a park bench for a month. Fortunately all he has to show for it is a few days stubble. Now that will teach a young snob a lesson about life.

Attempting to shove in messages about family, money, love, and Jesus, while neglecting such things as character development, consistency, and story, The Ultimate Gift makes the ultimate mistake in storytelling: the film attempts to tell the audience what happens to Jason, rather than actually showing it. What results is a surprisingly shallow film with extremely lofty ambitions. With each preachy plot-turn, audiences will find themselves less and less connected with the material.

As director Michael O. Sajbel perfects the intricacies of the forward facing two shot, his actors struggle to connect with each other and the drama-laden script. Abigail Breslin, nominated for an Oscar for her standout role in Little Miss Sunshine, is the only actor here who manages to find any sense of realism in her character. She brings life and vitality to each frame she enters, though she can’t save this dull cliche-fest from itself.

Fans of Fox Faith, the production company releasing the film, will most likely have no qualms overlooking the message-heavy story, shallow execution, and lackluster acting, but will simply rejoice in the fact that the film is “family friendly.” But “family friendly” doesn’t have to mean dreadfully unrealistic or painfully simple does it? Fans of family films should demand better. Praising a film for what it lacks (violence, swearing, etc.) is simply celebrating what the film is not. And try as it might The Ultimate Gift is ultimately not praise-worthy regardless of what it leaves out.

To view a trailer for The Ultimate Gift, and to purchase it, visit Amazon

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