The Ultimate Gift is a 2006 American drama film directed by Michael O. Sajbel from a screenplay written by Cheryl McKay, which is in turn based on the best selling novel by Jim Stovall. It stars Drew Fuller, Bill Cobbs, Abigail Breslin, Brian Dennehy, and James Garner, and was released on March 9, 2007 in the United States and Canada. The film's DVD sales were quite high in relation to its theatrical receipts and it continues to be a success in DVD sales and on television. A sequel titled The Ultimate Life was released in 2013.
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When his rich grandfather, Howard "Red" Stevens (James Garner), dies, Jason (Drew Fuller) does not expect to inherit anything from his multi-billion-dollar estate. He strongly resents his grandfather because his father had died while working for him. There is an inheritance, in fact, but it comes with a condition: Jason must complete 12 separate assignments within a year in order to get it. Each assignment is centered around a "gift". Gifts of work, money, friends and learning are among the dozen that Jason must perform before he is eligible for the mysterious "Ultimate Gift" his grandfather's will has for him. Red's attorney and friend, Mr. Hamilton (Bill Cobbs), and his secretary, Miss Hastings (Lee Meriwether), attempt to guide Jason along the path his grandfather wishes him to travel.
On his return after completing the first task, everything he values is suddenly taken away from him – luxury apartment, his restored muscle car, and all his money – and he is left homeless. His trendy girlfriend, Caitlin (Mircea Monroe), ditches him when his credit card is rejected at a fancy restaurant. After his mother (Donna Cherry) tells him she cannot help him, as part of the agreement, he miserably wanders the city alone. While sleeping in a park, he encounters a woman, Alexia (Ali Hillis), and her outspoken daughter, Emily (Abigail Breslin). Jason befriends the two, and then asks them to go to the attorney's office and confirm themselves as his "true friends" in order to pass his assignment, but afterwards Jason walks away and ignores Emily's request to see him again. However, Jason accidentally discovers that Emily is suffering from leukemia, and sees a chance to develop a strong bond with someone.
From that point, he tries his best to help Emily have a great life while it lasts, and Emily encourages a romance between Jason and her mother. Another of his tasks requires him to travel to Ecuador and study in a library his father and grandfather built to help the people there. This brings him to address his resentment over the death of his father there, and he makes a trip into the mountains with a local guide to see where it happened. Jason learns from his guide that the story he had always believed about his father's death was a lie, fabricated by his grandfather out of guilt and shame for trying to push Jason's father into the oil business. Jason and the guide are captured there and taken hostage by militants for several weeks, until Jason manages to ensure their escape. He returns to America and discovers that Emily's condition has deteriorated, so he arranges for Gus the ranch-hand to host a belated Christmas celebration at his home for them.
Upon completing his twelve tasks, Jason is given a sum of $100-million to do with whatever he pleases, and all of his property is returned to him. His former girlfriend, knowing that he has regained his wealth, makes an attempt to win him back but he declines her offer. With his inheritance, Jason chooses to build a hospital, called Emily's Home, for patients with terminal illnesses, but before the building begins, Emily dies. After the groundbreaking for Emily's Home, Jason is recalled to the law firm for one more meeting and told he has exceeded the expectations of his dead grandfather, and he is given the final gift of over $2-billion, rewarding Jason not only for his completing the tasks, but for using the $100-million to help others. That night, Jason is seen sitting on a bench in the park, when Alexia joins him. He thanks her for the help that she and her daughter gave him. Then they kiss, as a butterfly, representing Emily, flies around them.
The film was financed with $14 million from the Stanford Financial Group, wealth management firm based in Houston. Stanford showed the film to prospective clients at private screenings and according to an executive of the firm, they were able to track a number of multimillion-dollar relationships that resulted because of the film.
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Because of the philanthropic message of the film, charities in a handful of communities sponsored advance screenings of The Ultimate Gift to coincide with National Philanthropy Day 2006. Among such regional screenings was one in Richmond, Virginia, organized in partnership by The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia Bon Secours Health Care Foundation, Richmond Jewish Foundation and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Professor Paul Schervish of Boston College was among those in attendance for the event. Another pre-screening took place on February 22, 2007, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, under the auspices of the United Way of Southeast Missouri. In addition, organizations such as Bernhardt Wealth Management of McLean, Virginia have held private screenings for their clients. Bernhardt Wealth Management hosted such a screening on February 24.
The Ultimate Gift was given mixed reviews from film critics. "Though The Ultimate Gift avoids religious speechifying, it's dramatically inert with flat direction" says Rotten Tomatoes. The Ultimate Gift has a 32% overall approval (59 reviews with a 5.1/10 average critic rating). On Metacritic, the film has a user score of 8.9 out of 10 based on 25 reviews, and a critic metascore of 49 out of 100.
The New York Times' reviewer said, "Reeking of self-righteousness and moral reprimand, [the movie] is a hairball of good-for-you filmmaking..... [T]he movie's messages are methodically hammered home." Christianity Today felt the film warranted 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it "lovingly crafted ... but never manages to build up much mystery, suspense, tension, or narrative steam." Joe Leydon of Variety magazine was favorably impressed and noted that "discussions of faith and God are fleeting, almost subliminal — without stinting on the celebration of wholesome family values." William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote: "Its sincerity, optimism and air of open-minded tolerance go down well, and it makes a nice change-of-pace." He lauded its "tight and often compelling" screenplay, sparkling dialogue and "first-rate" production values.
The Ultimate Gift opened quietly with receipts of $1.2 million on its first weekend. As a result, many theaters dropped the film, causing a drastic slide in screens and ticket sales. As of May 6, the movie had grossed a total of just over $3.4 million.
DVD sales were $9.55 million in the first two months following its release.
Mark McKenzie wrote the film's incidental music. At the film's climax, "Something Changed" is highlighted, a song composed by Contemporary Christian Music-singer Sara Groves. Other songs include "Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan, "The Thrill is Gone" by B.B. King, and "Crazy" by Patsy Cline.
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