When rich Red Stevens meets his end,
His family does not regret.
They only care what he’ll extend
To them within the will he set.
He gives them limited control
And nowhere near what they desire.
The rest is missing as a whole,
Perhaps for one who will aspire.
To Jason Stevens, Red’s grandson,
Whose father died he knows not how,
Red gives a challenge that, if won,
Will grant the most he can endow.
Since Jason is a spoiled punk
Who hopes for something still to gain,
He flies to Texas in a funk,
As Red’s will stipulated plain.
Unlike the simple gift he thought
He would receive when set down,
He’s told to work and toil a lot
Upon a ranch some hours from town.
Eventually, he gets the gist
And digs fence posts for many miles,
But when he’s finished and dismissed,
There is no gift for all his trials.
He got, it seems, the Gift of Work,
And soon the Gift of Problems comes.
He sees that every “friend’s” a jerk
When he’s made poor and joins the bums.
He has to find just one true friend,
A gift that is in short supply.
Then he finds someone to defend,
Although he’s now a homeless guy.
Alexia and daughter too
Named Emily are grateful so
The young girl says their friendship’s true,
Although they met not long ago.
He ditches them, but soon he learns
That Emily is bound to die.
Her cancer sparks his own concerns,
And Jason pays their rent, though high.
Alexia, touched by this act,
Agrees to share his Thanksgiving,
Thanks to her daughter, who, in fact,
Wants them to pair up while she’s living.
The Stevens family dinner goes
Downhill because of pride and greed.
When Jason sees their moral lows,
He sees himself and can’t proceed.
The next gift in Red’s repertoire
Is that of Learning things through pain.
To do that, Jason must withdraw
And go someplace to find a plane.
In Ecuador, his father crashed,
And Jason always had blamed Red.
With this real story now rehashed,
He misses more those Stevens dead.
When Jason’s captured by cartels,
He thinks his life’s about to end,
But he escapes them and dispels
The worries of his new-found friend.
Alexia and Emily
Are glad he’s back, albeit late,
But even now that he is free,
Both death and heartache still await.
When all his challenges are through,
He’s given millions from Red’s will,
But there is something he can do
For those like Emily, still ill.
When he presents expensive plans
For family homes for those in need,
He feels at last he understands
How he can help and intercede.
But Emily soon goes to heaven,
Leaving Lexi in good care.
For now the ultimate gift is given:
Jason’s ready to be heir.

Watching the greedy excesses of the rich and infamous has become a favorite pastime for many television viewers lately. With all the Kardashians and “Housewives” and such out there, I’m sure plenty of people would love to see them taught a lesson. While Bobcat Goldthwait wanted to gun them down in his atrocious black “comedy” God Bless America, I, for one, much prefer the reformation portrayed in the Hallmark-esque The Ultimate Gift.

James Garner is the heart of the film as the deceased Red Stevens, who teaches his grandson the deeper life lessons that his privileged upbringing could not. His recorded messages throughout the movie may be reminiscent of Brewster’s Millions, but they help tie the film and its lessons together. Drew Fuller as Jason is a bit too blank-faced to be really compelling for most of the film (Nick Stahl or Chris Pine could have done just as well), but Abigail Breslin gives a touchingly precocious performance as young Emily. The lovely Ali Hillis is also quite good as Alexia, but for me the film’s main appeal, like its lessons, belong to the older generation: Garner, Bill Cobbs as his aged lawyer friend Mr. Hamilton, Lee Meriwether as Miss Hastings, and Brian Dennehy as hard-working rancher Gus.

Many critics were, well, critical of how the film pushed its good-for-you values on both characters and the audience, but when those lessons are this universal, I don’t mind. It’s satisfying to see a spoiled playboy like Jason stripped of everything he thought was valuable, only for him to get it back and more with a very different viewpoint and appreciation. Both he and Emily act almost as guardian angels for Alexia, and their interactions are both believable and sweet.

I will say that the whole part in Ecuador, while heightening the drama, is so different in tone and setting from the rest of the film as to seem out of place. Another thing I do wonder is how the apples fell so far from the tree. I know that the second generation rarely equals the tycoons who earned them all their money, but Red Stevens seems so down to earth, wise, and prudent that I can’t help but wonder how his kids turned out so greedy and ungrateful. There’s another movie higher on my list with a similar problem, but here there is at least the hope that Jason, as the next Red Stevens, will run his empire much better than any of Red’s children would. The Ultimate Gift isn’t just the fortune Jason inherits but the experience to use it wisely.

Best line: (Jason, to Emily about a statue of Jesus; a good example of the film’s unobtrusive religiosity) “I don’t know much about God or Jesus, but I can promise you those arms are meant for you.”

Artistry: 8
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 7
Watchability: 7
Other (lessons everyone should learn): +4
TOTAL: 43 out of 60

Next: #183 – Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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