The Ultimate Gift

2007, Movie, PG, 114 mins


If SAW (2004) were a sanctimonious sermon in movie form rather than a sadistic horror picture, it might look a lot like this preachy, faith-based movie about a sanctimonious self-made billionaire's plot to teach his lazy, selfish grandson to appreciate life by forcing him to play a series of "games."

To his closest associates and old friends, the late oil billionaire Red Sevens (James Garner) was an inspiration, a self-made man who valued relationships and principals above things and earmarked much of his vast fortune for charitable projects. Not so Red's grasping, materialistic children, who've never done an honest day's work or a selfless thing in their lives and despised Red as an overbearing killjoy full of corny wisdom. They'd gladly bypass the funeral were it not for the fact that Red's lawyer and old friend, Ted Hamilton (Bill Cobbs), is executing the will and expects at least lip service to the proprieties. Ironically, Red's will represents the worst kind of giving: His bequests, a mere fraction of his holdings, are encumbered with infantilizing conditions and provisos that give him control from beyond the grave. Perhaps that's how such an apparent paragon as Red raised such spoiled, despicable children. Trust-fund brat Jason (Drew Fuller, of TV’s Charmed), the only child of Red's favorite son (the one who died young and under mysterious circumstances while on a business trip in Ecuador with Red) gets the worst gift of all: videotapes of his dying grandfather promising a series of gifts if Jason completes a series of unpleasant tasks. His rapacious girlfriend (Mircea Monroe) encourages Jason to play Red's games if there's a chance he might get some of the undistributed billions. She has no idea they're designed to teach spiritual values: Family means more than money, it's better to give than to receive, true friends don’t care about material things, learning lets you dream, and dreaming sets you free. Those lessons are the gifts, something Jason is slow enough to realize that they actually have time to change him. Jason undergoes the most profound changes after meeting financially strapped single mother Alexia (Ali Hillis) and her precocious, leukemia-stricken little girl, Emily (Abigail Breslin), who teach him heartbreaking lessons about love and pain and the whole damned thing.

Faith-based filmmaker Michael O. Sajbel's adaptation of motivational speaker Jim Stovall's novel features a strong cast, including Brian Dennehy as Gus, Red's old friend from their wildcatting days, and onetime Catwoman Lee Meriwether as Miss Hastings, Stevens' starchy right hand. But it is message filmmaking so blunt you might be tempted to root for the parasitic reprobate over the saintly old man, and that's just not right. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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