The Ultimate Gift has been on my radar since its U.S. release way back in March of this year. I was intrigued by the trailers and the message of the film, but after it bombed with critics (and at the box office), I pretty much lost my desire to see it. However, with the Christmas spirit fully upon me now, I figured it would be nice to see a movie about philanthropy, so I rented this title a couple days ago. Here’s what I thought of it.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Billionaire oil tycoon Red Stevens (played by James Garner) knows that he’s dying and knows that his family won’t even wait until his body is cold before squabbling over how to divvy up his estate. Before that can happen, he painstakingly goes over his will with longtime attorney and friend Ted Hamilton (Bill Cobbs). In addition, Red makes a special video for his grandson Jason (Drew Fuller) to view after Red’s death.
When Jason arrives at Hamilton’s law offies for the reading of the will, he’s exasperated to learn of his grandfather’s video. He would rather have just gotten a nice sum of money so he could go back to his partying ways. But Hamilton convinces Jason to sit down and watch the video, whereupon Jason learns that in order to get his inheritance he will have to complete a series of tasks to Hamilton’s satisfaction.
Jason at first doesn’t want to play this kind of game. He and his grandfather were on bad terms when the old man passed away, so Jason wasn’t expecting all that much anyway. But he finally goes along with Red’s wishes and begins the first of his tasks, which is to go work for a month on a ranch in Texas.
The rest of the film chronicles Jason’s attempts to get through all the tasks that Red set out for him, and shows Jason’s conversion from a selfish, materialistic jerk to a caring, loving, generous young man. Along the way, Jason learns many things about himself and even finds true love in the form of a woman named Alexia (Ali Hillis) and her daughter Emily (Abigail Breslin).
My Reaction: I want to say that I was disappointed with The Ultimate Gift because it never really lived up to its potential; however, I knew going in that it had received mostly mediocre reviews, so it’s not as though I wasn’t forewarned to a certain degree.
There were so many things wrong with this film that I hardly know where to begin discussing it. Let’s start with the performances. Drew Fuller was an absolutely terrible casting choice for the lead role. He was just so wooden and dull that I never got behind his character at all. I didn’t care what happened to him; I just wanted him off the screen ASAP. The supporting cast, with the exception of Abigail Breslin, wasn’t much better, so this film was pretty painful to watch in that regard.
Next up, I thought the story was trite and unoriginal. A rich kid like Jason never worked a day in his life? Oh, ya don’t say… Never would have guessed that one on my own. Similarly, Jason doesn’t understand the value of money and doesn’t appreciate the things he has? Wow, that’s some amazing insight there! And on and on through the 12 gifts that he receives from his grandfather. In short, the film was entirely too preachy for my tastes.
And finally, I didn’t like the fact that Jason inherited billions in the end anyway. That seemed to undermine everything he had done and all the lessons he had learned up until that point. Talk about mixed messages! On the one hand, the grandfather was saying, money isn’t that important, be generous, etc. etc. But on the other hand, the “ultimate gift” is the whole fortune anyway? Yeah, I know the ultimate gift was supposed to be love, but it plays out that the ultimate (as in final) gift was the money.
Overall, I thought The Ultimate Gift was well meaning, but just went in the wrong direction from the very first frame. I give it 2 stars out of 5.