A man is sadly at his least wise
When he prefers work above his own loveliest prize.
Wisdom can spring from pain or the past;
How you and I choose is our generation’s contrast.
Journals and annals have much to tell:
Listen and look to find in them what lessons may dwell.
Dreams are perhaps best when advertised:
Speaking them may render them more potent when realized.
Regret grows when foolish sleepers wake;
Contentment grows from dodging someone else’s mistake.

(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt is for a landay, a 22-syllable couplet that exists as an oral poetic form among women in Afghanistan. Above, I strung several together to be taken individually or together as lessons drawn from the film.)

I’ve always loved the 2006 film The Ultimate Gift, a clean-cut drama that plays like a high-quality Hallmark film but won me over with its moral wake-up call and some fine performances from Abigail Breslin and James Garner. I had heard it had been given a television sequel, but just now got around to seeing it. Directed by Michael Landon, Jr., The Ultimate Life is a less-publicized tale of the continuing struggles of Jason Stevens, the reformed playboy who was given twelve gifts from his dead grandfather Red Stevens (Garner), which changed his world view, won him a girlfriend, and prepared him to take over Red’s billion-dollar corporation. It picks up where the first left off, proving that his spoiled relatives wouldn’t so easily accept his sudden turnaround and happy ending, yet it doesn’t take long for his story to be supplanted by an extended flashback involving Red’s youth and rise to fame and fortune.

I’ll come right out and say it: this film is not nearly as good as the original, but it’s not all bad either. Drew Fuller has been replaced as Jason Stevens by Logan Bartholomew and Garner is absent save for a single recording, but at least most of the actors from the first film return, including Bill Cobbs, Lee Meriwether, and Ali Hillis as Drew’s sweetheart Alexia. Sadly, the chemistry between Jason and Alexia is lost for the most part by the recasting, and their early tension is awkward and unconvincing. The film thankfully doesn’t dwell on Drew’s still misplaced priorities, for Red’s faithful lawyer friend Hamilton supplies him with Red’s personal journal, which will undoubtedly hold whatever lesson Jason needs to learn.

The story of young Red’s endeavors to become a billionaire ranges from corny to inspiring, but the film’s greatest enjoyment comes from recognition of known characters’ younger selves and the depiction of events only mentioned in The Ultimate Gift. There’s romance and labor, success and obsession, and the film does show how a man as seemingly wise as Red Stevens could have such rotten ungrateful offspring. (Basically, when a tree isn’t tended and grows crooked, it’s hard to straighten it after the fact.)

Unfortunately, The Ultimate Life falters toward the end of Red’s story. His loss of priorities leads him to make a self-serving choice, which is never really admonished, and after doing something kind and noble, he suddenly realizes the error of his ways and comes up with his famous twelve gifts seemingly out of nowhere. The film should have been more explicit about what inspired this list. It suggests the interesting forerunner of a golden list (a morning habit of listing ten things for which to be grateful), but that’s ten items, not twelve, and any comparison is never made clear.

Ultimately (hee hee), it’s a worthy companion piece for The Ultimate Gift but a far cry from the original’s power and appeal. It extols family and hard work and offers a generic but sweet confession of love that may tug someone’s heartstrings (like my dad’s). Whereas the first was slightly higher than usual Hallmark fare, The Ultimate Life fits comfortably into that less-than-favored mold.

Best line: (young Hamilton) “Your family is your legacy.”

Rank: Honorable Mention

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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