The Ultimate Gift?

Now, back to the criticism

My wife and I rented & watched The Ultimate Gift this week.  It has an impressive cast of older actors, as well as the ubiquitous Abigail Breslin (this is the second movie I’ve watched in as many weeks with her in it, sheesh!).  I will try – as always – not to spoil the movie with specific details, but trust me, this isn’t exactly a puzzler of a movie.  You’ll probably have the ending all figured out long before you actually turn on the DVD player. 

Let me say that nothing grates on my nerves more than the author/director/whatever of a work coming on in advance to tell me how important and wonderful whatever I’m about to read/watch/whatever is.  And I *REALLY* dislike it when said author/director/whatever is also taking time before the movie starts to advise me of all the very valuable special features included on the DVD – as well as the merchandise related to the movie that can be purchased through their web site.  Trust me.  If I think your book/movie/whatever is *that* impressive and worthwhile, I’ll search out more information about it – and you.  Let me watch the movie without you attempting to persuade me how wonderful it’s going to be.  You should have let go of that need to justify your work when you published/released it.  Or else you shouldn’t have published/released it in the first place.

So that was a bad start.

Unfortunately, it was only foreshadowing the poorness of the film itself.

I detest movies with preternaturally intelligent and wise children who manipulate clueless adults.  It bugs the snot out of me.  And once again, Breslin takes on this role.  She’s good at it, but that’s hardly a good thing, in my opinion. 

The story is of the moral development of a rich trust-fund baby.  Said development is undertaken with the carrot of some mysterious inheritance amount from his uber-wealthy and recently deceased grandfather – a person we are told very quickly, the protagonist has no love for.  Moral development is to be accomplished, *wink wink* without him knowing it at first, through the performance of tasks.  If he succeeds in a task, he moves on to the next one and theoretically closer to whatever his inheritance might be.  If he fails, it’s game over and he gets nothing.  The grandfather is attempting to foster something in the protagonist different from the self-absorption and greed of the rest of the family, including the protagonist’s mother.

I’ve always liked James Garner, and even in his limited role here, I like him.  While I don’t have any huge opinions about Brian Dennehy, he does a good job in his limited role here. 

Of course there’s an incidental love interest.  Of course there are predictable situations of frustration and infuriation by the protagonist, Jason, played adequately by Drew Fuller.   The plot is predictable.  The characters are two-dimensional.  We aren’t shown anything in any of them that makes them real.  There are no internal dilemmas, no character twists, nothing that isn’t color-by-number obvious from the first five minutes or so of the film.  

All of which is lamentable and makes for a poor movie in and of itself.  But my crowning infuriation with the movie is literally the last five minutes.  I’ve sat through the predictable rehabilitation of Jason from a self-obsessed jerk to a pillar of the community and model of self-sacrifice.  I would have respected the movie a thousand times more if it had just left it at that. 

But it didn’t.  In one final ‘surprise’, the movie follows in the lead of American Christianity and the heretical teachings of prosperity theology.  It’s so obvious I could watch the two by four being swung at my head in slow motion.  In case you haven’t seen, heard, or read Joel Osteen and the rest of the prosperity theology heretics, this movie delivers their message to you on a golden platter.  God is your sugar daddy.  Give till it hurts, and you’ll be rewarded tenfold, or twenty fold, or two-hundred fold. 

This is the ultimate crime of this movie.  The rest can be overlooked as just a bad movie.  What makes it criminal, spiritually damaging, is the last five minutes.  I hope that nobody else goes out and sees this movie.  Especially impressionable or desperate people who might pick up on those final five minutes as the key to their deliverance from whatever it is they’re dealing with in their lives right now.

God is good.  God loves you.  God has and will continue to provide for you.  But don’t expect God to hand you a winning lottery ticket, or the crown jewels, or anything else to ‘reward’ your faith and moral uprightness.  You insult yourself, you insult God, and you insult the millions of Christians who have died in their faith or because of their faith, who didn’t sell out, didn’t sell short, and still trusted in their Savior. 

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