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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