The Ultimate Gift
FoxFaith's newest offering, The Ultimate Gift (based on motivational speaker Jim Stovall's novel of the same title), aims to be just the sort of movie Christians pine for. Lovingly crafted to engage the viewer in an exploration of what truly matters in life, to gently invite a contemplation of faith as a source of meaning, and to inspire hope in even the most tragic circumstances, this film has its heart absolutely in the right place. If only it were a bit more entertaining. Like sensible woolen socks in a ribbon-wrapped package, The Ultimate Gift may be good for you, but it's a little hard to get excited about.
Former model Drew Fuller (TV's Charmed) plays Jason Stevens, a photogenic, spoiled and selfish jet setter who has never worked a day in his life. When his muscle car roars up to his grandfather's gravesite midway through the burial service, we get our first clue that Jason is a jerk—and that the movie isn't going to be particularly understated in its portrayal of that fact. For reasons the film will eventually take great pains to explain, Jason and his grandfather have been long estranged. So while the rest of Jason's impossibly self-seeking family bicker greedily over Red Stevens' extensive assets, Jason assumes he will receive nothing beyond the generous trust fund he has always enjoyed. However, at the reading of will, Jason discovers he is included in his grandfather's estate, in ways he could never have imagined.
It turns out that Red, a visionary oil and cattle tycoon (played with appropriate wise-old-timer-ness by James Garner), filmed a series of messages for Jason before his death. Each message will send Jason on a month-long challenge his grandfather hopes will impart some gift of insight or character. If Jason can accomplish each task, he will receive an inheritance Red promises will be the "ultimate gift." Curiosity (not to mention greed) makes Jason anxious to discover just what it is a multi-billionaire considers the "ultimate gift," so the young man sullenly embarks on his grandfather's adventure.
Many quests follow. Some are straightforward and obvious. A month-long stint putting in fence posts on a Texas ranch is designed to teach the benefits and satisfaction of work, while a command to give some money away aims to teach the pleasure of charity. Some of the other challenges seem a bit excessive. The value of a dollar is revealed by temporarily stripping Jason of all his assets, moving him from penthouse to park bench in a single day. Another adventure designed to cultivate a love of learning goes sideways when Jason is kidnapped and almost murdered by Ecuadorian drug lords. (Seriously. That is part of the plot.)
The most touching "gifts" Red seeks to give Jason involve relationships. Challenged to find one true friend, Jason ends up learning a lot about friendship from a precocious ten-year-old named Emily (played by Little Miss Sunshine's justly celebrated Abigail Breslin). Emily and her attractive, empathetic single mother Alexia (Ali Hillis of Must Love Dogs) come in handy when Red assigns the gift of family. Jason gives it a go with his own kin at thanksgiving dinner, but the barely human young man seems beyond saving. (The antics of these greedy Texans may remind some viewers of Dallas, but the Stevens make the Ewings look downright philanthropic.) Abandoned by his own family, Jason slowly realizes that Alexia and Emily may be his future.