The Ultimate Life
2013, PG, 104 min. Directed by Michael Landon Jr.. Starring Logan Bartholomew, Ali Hillis, Drew Waters, Bill Cobbs, Peter Fonda, Abigail Mavity, Elizabeth Ann Bennett, Bechir Sylvain, Myke Holmes, Lee Meriwether.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 6, 2013
Striking oil seems a whole lot easier than finding faith in this inspirational film based on the novel by Jim Stovall, whose previous book, The Ultimate Gift provided the source material for an identically titled film that garnered respectable box-office figures when it was released in 2007. The Ultimate Life is both a sequel and a prequel to The Ultimate Gift. I guess an everlasting God makes it easier to scramble around in time.
This new film’s contrived storyline is long on melodrama and short on surprise. A plodding pace further makes its trudge toward resolution a dour proposition. Michael Landon Jr. has made a career of directing inspirational works, and it’s reasonable to expect that his filmmaking craft would have become more fluid and proficient by now. But viewers may find themselves perpetually plagued by nagging questions regarding performances that appear inauthentic and narrative leaps that stretch logic. Furthermore, the answers to life’s mysteries offered in this film are the same platitudes already known to viewers before going in. A modern-day parable about the virtues of gratitude, family, and friendship, The Ultimate Life will be best received as a field-trip outing for Bible-study groups.Picking up a few years after The Ultimate Gift concludes, The Ultimate Life drops us into the life of Jason Stevens (Bartholomew), who is now managing the billion-dollar foundation he inherited from his grandfather Red Stevens (played by James Garner in the original). Struggles with greedy relatives keep Jason tangled in court proceedings, and even his marriage proposal to his longtime girlfriend Alexia (Hillis) is interrupted by a subpoena. Alexia wants to go to Haiti anyway to help the needy. To assuage his troubles, Jason’s lawyer (Cobbs, another carryover from the first film) gives him Red’s old diary, and Jason stays up all night reading about Red’s struggle to escape poverty and emerge a millionaire. Jason finishes in the morning a changed man. Again. Via Red’s experiences as a young man and wildcatter, Jason learns that money cannot buy happiness. What the viewers learn is that money can’t buy a good movie either.