Ultimate Gift, The
PG
Entertainment: +3
Acceptability: +3

Drew Fuller, Abigail Breslin, Ali Hillis, Lee Meriwether, Brian Dennehy, James Garner. Drama. Written by Cheryl McKay. Based on the novel by Jim Stovall. Directed by Michael O. Sajbel.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Upon the death of his extremely wealthy grandfather, a rebellious rich kid (Drew Fuller) learns that he has to accomplish several tasks before receiving his inheritance. Through these arduous missions and the grounded people he meets along the way, the young man comes to a spiritual enlightening.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Biblical lessons are making their way back into films with the arrival of studio branches designed to reach Christians and spiritual thinkers. Its a time of new birth complete with labor pains. These movie companies are searching for the best way of presenting spiritual matters much the same way pioneer filmmakers once experimented with camera placement, editing trickery and the addition of sound. Most of these recent explorations containing religious subtext have disappointed critics and moviegoers alike, as we have expected instant maturity in this field. The motion picture trailblazers of the 20s, 30s and 40s had one advantage over their current counterparts; the innocence of the cinema patron. Modern moviegoers, however, have seen it all, every special effect and every story element, including a few examples of New Testament enlightenment. And they arent much for stepping back in time.,p>The filmmakers attempting the blending of technical and artistic achievement with an infusion of spiritual subject matter often appear simplistic, like toddlers taking first steps. Gratefully, with many of these new films we see growth. Such is the case with The Ultimate Gift, the latest effort released by Fox Faith. The Ultimate Gift doesnt preach, it merely suggests. For example, when the lead character finds himself in a hospital chapel, he reverently contemplates at the foot of a statue of Christ. It is an honest, moving moment as he discusses eternal matters with a sickly child. And when this protagonist determines to do for others by building a massive clinic, he points out where a chapel will stand. The film doesnt say, Repent, but this significant detail implies that religious awareness is at the center of his good intentions, and should therefore, be apart of ours.

Writer Cheryl McKay (Gigi: Gods Little Princess) and director Michael O. Sajbel (who also helmed One Night With the King) slyly incorporate an acknowledgement of spiritual development within their storyline. My only problem with their noble effort was in the casting of young Drew Fuller. The actor has to play a self-absorbed jerk. This he does effectively. Unfortunately, I was never convinced of his subsequent evolution. The actor had difficulty in relaying an inner emotional turmoil and was unable to reflect a believable change of heart. In the scene where a child dies, he turns away from the camera, which comes across as unable to muster tears or the emotion of loss. We see change in the character, but its in the script and direction, sadly, not in the performance. Surrounded by pros such as Bill Cobbs, James Garner and Brian Dennehy, newcomer Fuller is simply outclassed and out-acted. (That said, hes good looking and charismatic; if he takes the challenge, I expect he will develop into a fine actor.)

Now, some are going to find my observations a bit picayune, but I support my evaluation with reflections of the spiritual dynamic depicted in films gone by (Places in the Heart, Stars in My Crown, The Apostle, and the more recent Tsotsi). Others will consider my lack of enthusiasm as betrayal to the cause. Not so. The Ultimate Gift is sound filmmaking, with an uplifting narrative, but if we call good stuff great, then we may never get great stuff.

Due to all the dynamics involved in filmmatic storytelling, it is a miracle when any film comes together. Adding spiritual elements to the equation only makes for an even more miraculous accomplishment, when it succeeds. Thanks to these filmmakers and companies like Fox Faith, we may one day find ourselves watching a masterpiece that also honors God and shrewdly points the way to the cross.

Heres my caution for those wholl decide to wait until the next Christian-respecting movie rather than supporting this one. If we dont back early efforts containing Christian themes, then studios may lose heart and forsake the possible masterpiece. This is a movie worth attending as it fuses Christian values with an interesting plotline. Writer McKay and director Sajbel should be congratulated for their efforts.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Fox Faith

Summary
Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: The term screw you is spoken, but it is used to reveal the hostile nature and self-centeredness of the lead before he becomes enlightened. There are a couple of minor expletives, but no other harsh language.
Profanity: None
Violence: At one point the lead and another man are captured and held hostage by South American narcotics warlords. They are beaten and threatened with death.
Sexual Intercourse: None
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: Some social drinking wine with dinner.
Other: Death is a central component to the storyline, as we learn of the grandfathers death, and the leads father had also died years before in a plane crash. A little girl suffers from leukemia and dies from the disease. It is well handled, her death a poignant element to the narrative, but the death may be too disturbing for little kids.
Running Time: 117 minutes
Intended Audience: Teens and Adults

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