I would give this film five stars for families and fans of the motivational/inspirational genre.
Drew Fuller, Bill Cobbs, James Garner, Brian Dennehy, Abigail Breslin, Ali Hillis
There is a young movement in the film world that is gaining momentum. Stephen Simon’s fans call it Spiritual Cinema. Fox’s new competing branch is called Fox Faith. The books these movies are based on come from the self help section. Recent titles from this new genre include “What the Bleep Do We Know”, “The Secret,” “Way of the Peaceful Warrior”, and most recently “The Ultimate Gift”. They all share the common trait of having an unveiled agenda to inspire the audience to live happier and more fulfilled lives. They are usually family friendly and therefore have the aftertaste of an after-school special.
“The Ultimate Gift”, based on Rick Eldridge’s popular book, follows trust fund brat Jason Stephens (Drew Fuller) in his journey through the hoops his preternaturally rich post-mortem grandfather Red (James Garner) has arranged in his will to make the boy earn his inheritance. Red’s presence is maintained throughout the film by the clever device of a video will which is doled out judiciously by its executor, Ted Hamilton (Bill Cobbs). By the end of the movie, Jason, and the audience by proxy, experiences the twelve “gifts” that Red has designed to develop character and fulfillment in the young man – the ultimate gift.
This film gets high marks for its intent and social value. The production quality of these inspirational/motivational films has greatly evolved since the early days of the genre. The cinematography, lighting, locations, and recognizable cast of “The Ultimate Gif”t add greatly to the cache and credibility of this project.
Unfortunately, this film suffers from a malady that seems to plague the entire genre – obtuse pedantic writing. The actors struggle with dialogue that has apparently been penned with a ball point baseball bat. After several scenes I had to pick myself up after being bludgeoned with a Jesus club. Perhaps Sajbel and screenwriter Jim Stovall, along with most of their inspirational filmmaking colleagues, don’t trust that subtlety will get the message across. The result is a preaching style that unfortunately limits the demographic of this otherwise well-made film to the proverbial choir.
I would give this film five stars for families and fans of the motivational/inspirational genre. However, if this variety of movie ever hopes to reach a larger audience, the film makers need to sit in on a test screening of “300” or “Jackass” and figure out how to weave their message around the fascinations of the masses.
Reviewer : Clare Bath