The Ultimate Gift



The Bigger Picture

The latest film marketed by Fox Faith (20th Century Fox's faith-based home video division), "The Ultimate Gift" is an inspirational drama based on a book by Jim Stovall that has apparently sold more than 3 million copies. Mainly notable for a stellar cast that includes James Garner, Brian Dennehy and young Abigail Breslin fresh off her Oscar-nominated turn in "Little Miss Sunshine," "Gift" comes across as a television-ready effort that would work perfectly for Hallmark.

The title refers to an enticement offered to spoiled and arrogant Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) from his recently deceased and extremely wealthy grandfather Red (James Garner) in which he promises the irresponsible young man via a video will that if he completes a series of tasks (or as he puts it, "gifts"), he will receive a substantial inheritance.

Thus, Jason endures a series of humiliating episodes in which he experiences life as a homeless person, does back-breaking labor at a ranch run by a bullying Dennehy and travels to South America and becomes involved in a dangerous situation involving rebel forces. Along the way, he forms a life-changing relationship with a beautiful single mother (Ali Hillis) and her feisty young daughter (Breslin) who is dying of leukemia.

The predictabilities of the story line might be forgivable if they had been rendered more entertainingly, but the overlong proceedings have been staged in an utterly pedestrian fashion by director Michael O. Sajbel (a veteran of similar spiritual territory in "One Night With the King"), who never manages to find a consistent tone.

Similarly, Fuller has trouble handling his character's many contradictory traits. But it's a pleasure to watch such old pros as Garner and Dennehy work their magic. Hillis is highly appealing as the vulnerable mother, and Breslin brings such charm to her stereotypical role that it more than justifies her position as one of Oscar's youngest nominees.