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Movie Review: The Ultimate Gift

Movie: The Ultimate Gift
Director: Michael O. Sajbel
Writer:, Cheryl McKay (Screenplay), Jim Stovall (Novel)
Starring: Drew Fuller, Ali Hillis, Abigail Breslin, James Garner, Brian Dennehy

Reviewed by Todd Burgett

 The Ultimate Gift

One of the many things that a movie can do is to make you leave the theater feeling good.  The Ultimate Gift justifiably earns the title of “feel-good movie.” This film is based on the popular novel by Jim Stovall and directed by Michael O. Sajbel, who recoups his directing career with Gift after the abysmal One Night with the King.

James Garner (The Notebook, TV’s The Rockford Files) plays billionaire Red Stevens who has died and left various parts of his fortune to his dysfunctional family. Drew Fuller (TV’s Charmed) plays Jason Stevens, Red’s grandson and a “trust fund baby.”  Jason is a selfish young man who lives to party and live the high life.  Jason is surprised to find out that he is included in his grandfather’s will.  In fact, his grandfather leaves him a series of “gifts” awarded after Jason completes various tests. We see Jason’s character and attitude change for the better as he passes each test along the way – which of course, was his grandfather’s intention.

Fuller does a convincing job of showing Jason’s transformation from a spoiled brat to a mature man. Seasoned veterans like Garner and Brian Dennehy (Cocoon, First Blood), who plays Red’s longtime buddy and is instrumental in Jason’s first test, are always a pleasure, despite their minimal screen time.  Abigail Breslin, in her first role since earning an Academy Award nomination for “Best Supporting Actress” for Little Miss Sunshine, steals the show as a young girl, Emily; she befriends Jason and is central to his transformation.  Of course, Emily’s mother, played by Ali Hillis (Open Water 2) develops a romance with Jason, too.  Although pretty, Hillis’ presence adds little depth to her character.

The Ultimate Gift is definitely a nice alternative to the countless remakes of “B” horror movies and second-rate comedies the studios tend to dump on the public this time of year.  Of course, the final revelation of what Jason “earns” as his ultimate gift is somewhat predictable, yet still feel-good-satisfying.

All that said, as a Christian reviewer, I must also critique this movie in light of its Christian content and biblical message which is, surprisingly, very little.  This movie is produced by FoxFaith (an imprint division of 20th Century Fox geared at faith content films and marketed mainly to Christians). That said, there is only a vague semblance of faith in this movie—I suppose the vague reference to Jesus in the hospital chapel keeps it in the “faith movie” category.  

In fact, the underlying message of the movie contradicts the Gospel of Christ.  Rather, it perpetrates the gospel of “boot-strap theology,” which is the American notion that if you work hard, treat people with respect, and live a good life, then you will be somebody of significance and the “Big Man” upstairs will surely shine down on you.  That contradicts the message of the biblical Gospel – which is the genuine “Good News” that sinners can receive grace and forgiveness from a Holy God because Christ died on the cross in our place offering us all the pleasure that is found only in God and living for His glory.  That doesn’t mean that the themes in Gift aren’t good and make decent point about how we live our lives.  However, if Gift was truly a “faith movie,” Jason’s “ultimate gift” would not have been what he earned or received from his grandpa – it would have been Christ.

Some might say I’m making too much of the sparse Christian content present in an otherwise entertaining and well-acted movie.  Yet, I must point out its deficiencies in this area since it is marketed to Christians as a movie of faith.  I recommend seeing this movie, not because it is light for the Gospel, but because it is a nice diversion and has the potential to make one feel great for having gone to the local Cineplex. – Todd Burgett, Christian Book Previews.com

 Download a Discussion Guide for The Ultimate Gift (pdf file)