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In case moviegoers didn’t sufficiently get the message that charity is a good thing from the 2007 inspirational drama The Ultimate Gift, its combination sequel/prequel The Ultimate Life has arrived to drum home the point. This second feature based on a best-selling book by Jim Stovall is mainly repetitive in its themes and suffers from a melodramatic plotline and ham-fisted execution, but it will no doubt please its target audience.
For those of you unfamiliar with the first film, it concerned a dying billionaire, Red (James Garner), bequeathing a fortune to his shallow playboy grandson Jason along with a series of tests designed to be lessons about achieving a higher purpose in life.
This installment begins several years later, with Jason’s (now played by Logan Bartholomew) relationship with his girlfriend Alexia (Ali Hillis) suffering from his workaholic tendencies and her unexpressed plan to spend six months working at a cancer clinic in Haiti. When Jason finds himself sued by his resentful family members, he turns to his longtime mentor and lawyer, Hamilton (Bill Cobbs), who by way of advice gives him his grandfather’s journal to read.
The ensuing flashback, which takes up most of the film’s running time, depicts the young Red’s (Drew Waters) Depression-era rags to riches story as a self-made man who, through sheer grit and determination, manages to make a fortune in the Texas oil business. Along the way, he discovers that money doesn’t buy happiness … rather, it’s achieved through selfless acts, such as his donating a kidney after his best friend suffers a life-threatening car accident.
Although it features such homilies as the necessity of creating a list of ten things in life for which to be grateful, the film avoids overt proselytizing. But it doesn’t manage to avoid a hackneyed storyline, formulaic characters and simplistic dialogue, with director Michael Landon Jr. unable to breathe life into the proceedings despite his undeniably sincere approach.
Joining such original cast members as Cobbs, Hillis and Lee Meriwether are several newcomers, including Waters, who infuses his portrayal of the young Red with an eager earnestness, and Peter Fonda, in a small role as the boss who first recognizes the young man’s talents.
Opens Sept. 6 (High Top Releasing)
Production: ReelWorks Studios
Cast: Peter Fonda, Drew Waters, Logan Bartholomew, David Mann, Bill Cobbs, Lee Meriwether, Ali Hillis
Director: Michael Landon Jr.
Screenwriters: Brian Bird, Lisa G. Shillingburg
Producers: Rick Eldridge, David Kappes
Executive producer: Rick Eldridge
Director of photography: Christo Bakalov
Editor: Bridget Durnford
Production designer: Jeremy Woodward
Costume designer: Natasha Landau
Composer: Mark McKenzie
Not rated, 104 min.
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