While there are many wonderful, heartwarming Christmas movies out there, there are probably ten times as many sappy ones out there that your wife, mother and grandmother binge watch each year (mostly one Hallmark and Lifetime). In this seasonal series, we take a look at the blech of the blech.
The Ultimate Gift (2006)
IMDB Description: “A deceased billionaire leaves his spoiled adult grandson a series of odd tasks to perform in order to receive “the ultimate gift,” with the resentful grandson having no idea what that might be.”
Cast: Wow is this movie loaded (except for the two main characters, unfortunately). James Garner plays the dead billionaire (seen on tape), while Brian Dennehy is Gus, the gruff ranch hand with a heart of gold. There’s also Abigail Breslin just before Little Miss Sunshine (which I bet she wishes came out before she showed up here). Bill Cobb and Lee Meriwether are also in this as the lawyer and his assistant. For those who don’t know who Lee Meriwether is:
Yep, it’s Catwoman!
Plot Summary: I’m kicking off this series with just a doozy of a movie that actually was in theaters, but now typically shows up on Hallmark Channel annually. This isn’t 100% a Christmas movie, but it’s a big enough presence to include it.
The movie is based on a book by former Olympic weightlifter Jim Stovall (seriously, every article about this movie reminds us that Stovall is a former Olympic weightlifter, because apparently that adds credibility to his writing). The basic plot is that billionaire oil man Red Stevens (Garner) dies and, rather than give all his wealth to the greedy Texan relatives seated around the table at his will reading, he assigns his spoiled grandson Jason (Drew Fuller, who I have never heard of) 12 tasks (or “gifts”…see the Christmas connection?) to complete. The prize? “The Ultimate Gift”. What is “The Ultimate Gift”? No one knows, including Red’s lawyer, Theophilus (or “Ted” to anyone who doesn’t want to try and pronounce “Theophilus”) and his assistant Miss Hastings, who does not have any first name, much less one as cool as “Theophilus”.
Thus sets up a series of challenges for poor Jason, the first of which involves being put to work by a ranch hand named Gus (Dennehy; in a movie with a character named Theophilus, Gus got kind of hosed on the character naming thing). Once he finishes putting about a million fence posts in the ground (seriously), Jason returns and finds that all of his stuff is gone, including his car, his apartment and his credit cards, so he ends up homeless for a night to teach him the value of money. Because this is a feel-good movie, and nothing makes people feel better than sick children, he naturally meets a young girl with leukemia (Breslin) and her mother. Strangely, the young girl is also a goth with a penchant for wearing stuff with skulls on them, adding a macabre touch not normally associated with sick kids in movies.
From there the movie goes on and off the rails about a dozen times. There’s a Thanksgiving dinner party with the awful Texas relatives (seriously, they’re such stereotypical Texans that I’m shocked no one was shooting a six-shooter in the air). There’s a budding romance with the mother of the girl. There’s conflict with the girl and her mother. And of course there’s the heartwarming kidnapping by militants in Ecuador.
Oh, you weren’t expecting that? Yes, while on a trip to Ecuador to visit the library his father built, Jason decides to go into the jungle to see where his father’s plane crashed, at which point he’s taken hostage for “several weeks” by the local rebels. The rebels clearly don’t know what to do with him, as they never demand a ransom or anything. Given that he’s the potential heir to a billionaire’s fortune, that feels like a missed opportunity. This is both the best and worst “kidnapped by guerillas” plot in Christmas movie history. It’s also the only “kidnapped by guerillas” plot in Christmas movie history (Die Hard was terrorists, which is totally different!).
Anyway, Jason eventually is freed by the military, comes back, gives the sick girl and her mom one last Christmas with Gus and his heart of gold, completes all 12 tasks and receives “The Ultimate Gift” (spoiler alert!): $100 MILLION DOLLARS (yes I know putting “DOLLARS” is redundant, but it looks better!). Naturally, Jason has learned a lot about himself and helping others, so he uses the money to open a hospital for sick kids. The movie ends with Jason and the girl’s mom in love (though the girl is in a better place…namely Little Miss Sunshine)
As I mentioned, this was actually in theaters for all of about a week, as it bombed. However, due to popularity with both “values voters” types and sappy Christmas movie fans everywhere, a sequel, The Ultimate Life, was produced in 2013. They replaced the guy who played Jason, and somehow Peter Fonda shows up, though not on the motorcycle from Easy Rider.
Sappiness Rating (1-5 Tears): 3. Sick kids are always sad, but there’s not a lot else to cry over in this movie, unless the lawyer falling in love with his assistant at the end makes you tear up (though perhaps because it’s a major breach of ethics).
WTF Rating (1-5 Eyerolls): About a 7. First, you have a dead guy basically take away his grandson’s stuff while he’s off doing hard (and free!) labor for his crazy ranch hand friend. Then he just happens to meet and fall in love with a woman and her daughter while sleeping on a park bench. Oh, and have I mentioned THE KIDNAPPING BY GUERILLAS?
Sappy Christmas Movie Tropes: Sick kids, finding the true meaning of Christmas, finding love, helping your fellow man