When the cast list contains James Garner, the movie has a head start in my book. So it was with "The Ultimate Gift." Although his character dies early on in the flic, his presence is felt via videotaped messages.
Garner's character (Red Stevens) is the grandfather of Drew Fuller's character (Jason Stevens). This is a story of one man making a difference in a loved one's life, even from the grave. The script is based on the book of the same name by Jim Stovall. If you've fallen in love with the book, please be forewarned this movie is not a word for word adaptation. Instead, it starts with the same main characters and travels its own route to get to the conclusion
Jason has been spoiled and pampered his entire life. Red uses an unusual bequest to try to make a difference in the young man's perspective. That bequest is delivered in stages, as Jason completes tasks described in monthly videotapes from his dead grandfather in the office of attorney Ted Hamilton (played with crusty authority by Bill Cobb). Also on hand is the wonderful Lee Meriwether as Hamilton's trusted secretary, Miss Hastings.
Along his road to redemption as a human being, Jason meets a number of people. Most influential in his revamping are Brain Dennehy as his grandfather's longtime friend and partner and Alexia and Emily, a mother-daughter duo played by Ali Hillis and Abigail Breslin, respectively. Jason will learn life lessons from them and others. (You wouldn't expect less, would you?)
Watching this obnoxious young man become a decent human being is a wonderful transformation. Going through the lessons with him is an inspiration. Fox Faith Movies has delivered a great family film (the PG rating reflects a bit of violence - not graphic and it certainly was in keeping with the movie's theme). This is not a sermon, but it certainly packs a strong message.
My only regret is James Garner's announcement that this is his last movie. At 79, he's entitled to retire, but I will miss that charming southwest drawl. And he couldn't have picked a more impressive message to deliver as the capstone to his distinguished career.
"The Ultimate Gift" will be out on DVD soon. If you missed it in the theater, so yourself a huge favor and get it. You won't be sorry.