The Ultimate Gift spends two hours delivering a message that a recent Coca-Cola ad conveys in 30 seconds: “You give a little love and it all comes back to you.” But while the commercial passes this message on to its viewers effectively and at full tilt, the movie makes the inexcusable faux pas of incessantly repeating it in every possible variation.
Abetted by screenwriter Cheryl McKay, director Michael O. Sajbel – whose One Night with the King failed to score with critics – has crafted a mediocre family drama that feels like an overlong sermon hammering the concepts of “family values,” and the importance of friendship and faith into the heads of its viewers.
Based on Jim Stovall's bestselling novel, and released by Fox Faith, The Ultimate Gift follows the turbulent story of Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller), a spoiled slacker whose life takes a drastic turn when he learns that his deceased grandfather Red (James Garner) has named him the only heir to the old man's fortune.
The catch is that Jason is not to receive his inheritance until he completes a series of challenging tasks, which Red calls “gifts.” Fantasizing about the big bucks, Jason takes on his first mission and flies to a Texas farm, where he is asked to put up a fence. His reward, however, does not involve any money. Instead, Red informs his grandson via videotape that he has successfully earned the gift of work.
Step by step, the movie then follows Jason as he struggles to earn the remaining gifts, each one teaching him a life lesson. Along the way, he also befriends a young girl named Emily (Abigail Breslin), a talkative cancer patient who will help Jason overcome his irresponsible lifestyle and thus find true happiness.
At this stage, The Ultimate Gift switches from sophisticated drama to stiff lecture. The message that money cannot buy happiness is repeated in almost every scene and in just about every bit of dialogue. As a result, the film rapidly runs out of inspirational resources.
Worse yet, the dramatic flow of the film's first half is shattered when, during a visit to South America, Jason falls into the hands of drug lords. Unnecessary and glaringly misplaced, all this action-packed segment does is kill off any credibility left for both the protagonist and the film itself. The corny ending that follows doesn't help matters any.
Although The Ultimate Gift fails to impart its moral values to the audience, the movie does benefit from a handful of solid performances led by an outstanding Abigail Breslin, recently nominated for an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine. As for James Garner, he only appears on videotape; yet, the veteran actor delivers a heartfelt performance as oil tycoon Red Stevens.
As a whole, however, The Ultimate Gift could hardly be called inspirational filmmaking.
© Franck Tabouring.
The Ultimate Gift (2007).
Dir.: Michael O. Sajbel.
Scr.: Cheryl McKay. From Jim Stovall's novel.
Cast: Drew Fuller. Abigail Breslin. Ali Hillis. James Garner. Brian Dennehy. Lee Meriwether.