Moviegoers have received this Gift before

The Ultimate Gift

on March 09, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
When Red Stevens (James Garner) dies, he divvies up his substantial estate, including oil fields and cattle ranches, among all his family members except one — his grandson, Jason (Drew Fuller, TV's Charmed ), a particularly rebellious trust-fund kid who will receive the titular inheritance if he can complete a series of tasks. The first of these is to spend a month building a fence in Texas, after which he receives the gift of “work.” There are 12 of these gifts in all, the culmination of which is the “ultimate gift” of being a better person. Oh, that, and a substantial amount of cash.

The book by Jim Stovall on which the film is based, which has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, is organized into 12 chapters, one for each gift. In adapting the script, however, Cheryl McKay crafts a narrative arc that creates confusion when the 12 gifts are mentioned and when Jason is allowed to proceed when he seems to have failed at certain tasks. By way of explanation, though, the 12 gifts are revealed, and their accompanying scenes replayed, as the closing credits roll.

Marketed by Fox Faith, The Ultimate Gift targets evangelical Christians but, other than a forced final-act reference to building a church, the religious references are a natural fit and shouldn't alienate crossover audiences. What might, however, is the film's soap opera qualities, from cliché money-grubbing characters to ridiculous escapades such as Jason's kidnapping by Ecuadorian drug lords. Veterans Garner and Brian Dennehy give convincing professional performances here, but Fuller is bland — likely through no fault of his own — and Abigail Breslin, as Jason's 9-year-old inspiration, taps the same delightful charm that garnered her an Oscar nom for Little Miss Sunshine but tries too hard.

Still, there's something appealing here — perhaps it's the very familiarity of it all that makes it so comfortable to watch. Distributor: Bigger Picture
Cast: Drew Fuller, James Garner, Ali Hillis and Abigail Breslin
Director: Michael O. Sajbel
Screenwriter: Cheryl McKay
Producers: Rick Eldridge and John Shepherd
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG for thematic elements, some violence and language
Running time: 114 min.
Release date: March 9, 2007

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