Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
The Ultimate Gift
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Jason Stevens has a problem. The poor little rich boy and trust fund baby just found out that he actually has to work for his inheritance. Has the world gone mad? His grandfather, Red Stevens (James Garner) is a billionaire who’s left all of his children large but unspectacular bequests. Jason alone is given the opportunity to earn his embarrassment of riches, and don’t think he’s not grateful.
The reality is he’s not grateful. Pretty boy Jason (Drew Fuller) is spoiled and sullen. Why can’t he just take the money and run? Red’s lawyer, Ted Hamilton (Bill Cobbs) and assistant Ms. Hastings (Lee Meriwether) are there to assure that the stipulations of the will are carried out. They inform Jason of month-long tasks that he must perform, or gifts, as his grandfather calls them in posthumous videotaped messages. He must collect twelve of them (each a challenge in their own right) before he can cash in.
Red has always taken an interest in his fatherless grandson and wants to save him from the fate of his elders. Guilt over Jason’s father’s death, and the subsequent estrangement it caused with Jason has continually bothered the billionaire. Red tries to repair this rift posthumously, dispensing advice to Jason regularly via videotaped messages. Maybe he can save one relative from becoming a member of the greedy Stevens wolf pack.
When your lawyer grieves for you more than your blood relatives do, it’s a sad commentary on the state of your family. Red’s relatives are all one-note characters, greedy and selfish, with no redeeming qualities. They scoff at the generous inheritances they receive at the reading of his will and act like a pack of vultures fighting over a carcass. Jason is heading for that kind of future, and is the type of arrogant ass who will actually say, “Do you know who I am?” to service personnel, suggesting an infuriating superiority – a sure premonition that his pride cometh before a fall.
The first gift, Work, is overseen by Red’s good friend Gus (Brian Dennehy) and takes place on a ranch. Patsy Cline’s Crazy plays languidly in the background, a favorite song of Gus’s that aptly describes Jason’s feelings for his unexpected adventures. He surprises everyone, most of all himself, by making it through the month and completing the gift.
Enter a love interest with a cute kid to fortuitously help Jason on crucial parts of his journey. At times the precocious Emily (Abigail Breslin) spouts dialogue that seems much too philosophically advanced for a child. She somehow pulls off being wise beyond her years by a rather low-key, matter-of-fact performance. Her mother Alexia (Ali Hillis) is about Jason’s age. Even the least jaded among us will see where this is leading. Emily is instrumental is helping Jason attain several of the gifts. She has a special circumstance that makes Jason’s time with her both urgent and life-altering for him. Alexia is a startling contrast to the shallow, materialistic women Jason is used to.
Each of the gifts takes place in a different setting. One almost costs him his life. Jason’s required road trip is a journey of self-discovery, whereby he encounters value in increments other than dollars. This journey’s been taken before and our intrepid hero’s transformation is the moral payoff. Gifts of Love, Work, Money, Family, Friendship – each serves to whittle the sharp edges off of Jason, honing him into a kinder, gentler anomaly within the Stevens clan.
Although well executed, the film offers few real surprises along the way. The very premise will have you ticking off plot points right away. Jason will start off spoiled and cynical. He will gradually have his sharp edges hewn away by real life challenges. He will begin to change, be more open-minded and altruistic. He will experience real love, real loss, begin to have empathy for others. You get the picture. Still, the film has its feel good moments.
This is a Fox Faith feature, without sexual content, nudity, or foul language. God’s presence is mentioned and portrayed in the film in several scenes, always gracious moments that are moving and bring comfort to both the character and viewer. The film is based on Jim Stovall’s best-selling novel of the same name.
Director Michael O. Sajbel (One Night with the King) does a competent job showcasing Jason’s changing awakening, namely that great wealth brings with it a certain noblesse oblige. The cast is likeable, especially James Garner’s Red, who wisely realizes that if you can’t take it with you, at least leave it in good hands. Drew Fuller’s Jason is credible as he morphs into the kind of person that will counteract Red’s selfish offspring, and the wonderful Abigail Breslin’s Emily just might coax a tear or two out of you.
The Ultimate Gift is a journey worth taking, and even if it is not the road less traveled, sometimes we are grateful for having the path already cleared for us.