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by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & The Ultimate Gift & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hough the body may die, the spirit lives on. Red Stevens (James Garner), though, didn't become a billionaire by taking chances, so he put himself on these little DVDs he had made up before he bit it. At his funeral, the priest paraphrases Red's favorite saying. "Every happening, great and small, is a parable by which God speaks to us," comes the folksy wisdom, gliding over a family who couldn't care less. "The art of life is to get the message."





Again, though, Red doesn't trust God to deliver the message in a timely manner, especially with regard to his grandson Jason (Drew Fuller). So Red has decided to pitch in.





Thanks to his grandfather's wealth, the twenty-something has never wanted for anything. Red worries that has ruined the boy. Jason's layabout friends play Xbox all day long. Jason himself smokes and has a loud Dodge Charger. A consummate disrespect artist and child of the hip-hop generation, Jason says things like "screw him" and "this is whacked." Jason, you see, is a spoiled brat who hemorrhages money. Red's DVD aims to fix that.





In lieu of an inheritance, then, Red gives Jason a series of tasks culminating in what he promises will be "the ultimate gift." Red warns, though, that failing to complete any of the intermediate steps means Jason gets nothing. Jason goes along initially thinking such a gift must be monetary. Between the inheritance conceit and the money-for-good-will morality, The Ultimate Gift is essentially Brewster's Spiritual Millions.





That's not such a bad thing, though it ultimately falls victim to focus group dilution. The first wide theatrical release from Fox Faith Movies, the film attempts early to demonstrate a core of reckless disregard and depravity in Jason it can then mold into upstanding moral behavior. The filmmakers wanted hard, edgy, sexy and young, but didn't have the stomach for it. If Jason were really a reprobate, his friends would've been Britney Spears-ing coke and e, not just playing videogames. If he were hip, he wouldn't reference the Amazing Kreskin, a magician whose popularity waned before his birth. If he were edgy, his girlfriend wouldn't say "gosh." She'd take the Lord's name in vain. That usage, though, is more offensive to Fox Faith's target demographic than any word with four letters. Her lips say "God," but the dubbing comes through as "Gosh." Jason's miraculous transformation becomes merely unbelievable, even fake. And thus it's crippled as a morality tale aimed at people like him.





Just as the film strains to connect with young people in a meaningful (edgy, dirty) way, it also makes some rather ridiculous overtures at the kinds of Christians who'd want explicit expressions of faith.





At one point, Jason, pitching a hospital facility to potential bankrollers, finishes listing the complex's amenities. He looks momentarily confused, then remembers something he left out. "Oh yeah," says Jason, "a church. A worship center." The dude who has taken literally one trip to a chapel is now speaking as though Christianity were his only compass. The film needed to pick sides, being either a generic morality tale or something blatantly Christian. It tried both. As a result, The Ultimate Gift is a few patches of iconography hanging half-sewn onto a quilt of secular ethics. That's the kind of massive, thin blanket that comforts no one.

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