×

Film Review: ‘The Ultimate Life’

A terminally dull piece of faith-based family-values filmmaking designed to appeal strictly to the converted.

With:

Drew Waters, Austin James, Logan Bartholomew, Abigail Mavity, Ali Hillis, Jack DePew, Bechir Sylvain, Elizabeth Ann Bennett, Bill Cobbs, Peter Fonda, Brett Rice, Lee Meriwether, David Mann, James Garner.

Both a prequel and a sequel to 2007’s inspirational theatrical bomb (but DVD hit) “The Ultimate Gift,” “The Ultimate Life” once again soft-pedals gentle messages of Christian charity and family values destined to appeal strictly to the converted. Frequent faith-based filmmaker Michael Landon Jr. displays great determination, and even more folly, in his attempt to mount a “Giant”-sized family saga with the production values of “Sharknado.” Terminally dull result faces grim theatrical prospects on its way to endless Hallmark Channel reruns, where it will challenge even the most forgiving viewers to stay awake and alert throughout.

Picking up three years after the events of “Gift,” busy young mogul Jason Stevens (Logan Bartholomew, taking over for Drew Fuller) has hit a rough patch with g.f. Alexia (Ali Hillis), and only a thorough reading of the journals of his deceased billionaire grandfather, Red (James Garner, onscreen for less than a minute), can set him straight. Thus the bulk of the film unfolds in flashbacks charting how Red (primarily played by Drew Waters) went from rags to riches, and takes an awfully long time to deliver an awfully trite message: Money only matters if you have someone special to share it with.

Largely dismal thesping briefly perks up during an early stretch carried by appealing young performers Austin James as teenage Red and Abigail Mavity as his feisty love interest, Hanna. Unfortunately, after a strange detour into WWII (and a single battle scene that manages less verisimilitude than anything Max Fischer staged in “Rushmore”), the teens grow up and the focus falls solely on adult Red’s obsessive quest to find his fortune in oil. He’s like Daniel Plainview, only whinier and less homicidal. Meanwhile, Hanna (now played by Elizabeth Ann Bennett) inexplicably loses her spark and fades into the background to care for the couple’s four interchangeable children as any dutiful wife (apparently) should.

Popular on Variety

Beyond the dispiriting gender politics, the pic’s social agenda emerges as hopelessly muddled. Struggling to make ends meet during the Depression, Red learns a valuable Ayn Randian lesson from a wealthy land owner (Peter Fonda, onscreen for about three minutes): Most people are sheep, while successful men are bellwethers. It’s only once the unapologetically greedy Red has selfishly amassed his own wealth (by stepping on or exploiting an untold number of “sheep” in the process), that he realizes he’s lost his soul. So he promptly buys it back by creating a “foundation” for generically altruistic purposes.

At least the narrative sloppiness and ineptly delivered themes in the script by Brian Bird and Lisa G. Shillingburg (freely adapted from the novel by Jim Stovall) feel of a piece with the entire production.

Film Review: 'The Ultimate Life'

Reviewed online, West Hollywood, Sept. 5, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 108 MIN.

Production:

A High Top Releasing release of a Rick Eldridge production in association with ReelWorks Studios. Produced by Eldridge, David Kappes. Executive producer, Eldridge. Co-executive producer, Chris Cates, John E. Allen Jr.

Crew:

Directed by Michael Landon Jr. Screenplay, Brian Bird, Lisa G. Shillingburg. Camera (color, HD), Christo Bakalov; editor, Bridget Durnford; music, Mark McKenzie; music supervisor, Robin Urdang; production designer, Jeremy Woodward; art director, Kristina Stevenson; set decorator, Karestin Harrison; costume designer, Natasha Landau; sound, Jarrett DePasquale; supervising sound editor, Will Howard; re-recording mixers, Marti D. Humphrey, Chris M. Jacobson; visual effects supervisor, Chris Cates, Jamie Beyers; visual effects, Digital Hyper Studios, ReelWorks Studios; stunt coordinator, Peter King; assistant director, Danielle Rigby; casting, Mitzi Corrigan, Penny Perry.

With:

Drew Waters, Austin James, Logan Bartholomew, Abigail Mavity, Ali Hillis, Jack DePew, Bechir Sylvain, Elizabeth Ann Bennett, Bill Cobbs, Peter Fonda, Brett Rice, Lee Meriwether, David Mann, James Garner.

More Film

  • Miss Juneteenth review

    'Miss Juneteenth': Film Review

    “Miss Juneteenth” richly captures the slow pace of ebbing small-town Texas life, even if you might wish there were a bit more narrative momentum to pick up the slack in writer-director Channing Godfrey People’s first feature. She’s got a very relatable heroine in Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise, an erstwhile local beauty queen whose crown proved the [...]

  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    'Never Rarely Sometimes Always': Film Review

    The basic plot of “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is easy enough to describe. A 17-year-old girl named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) winds up pregnant in a small Pennsylvania town. Prevented from seeking an abortion by the state’s parental consent laws, she takes off for New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where what they’d [...]

  • Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin,

    The Go-Go's on Sundance Doc: Neither 'America's Sweethearts' Nor 'Drug-Crazed Demons'

    Some people might come to a Go-Go’s documentary wanting a purely fun, bubbly experience, based on the effervescence the group projected at its breakthrough peak in the early ’80s. Others might want a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll tell-all, if they’re aware of the tensions and bad habits that led the all-female band to [...]

  • 'The Dissident' Review: Powerful Look at

    'The Dissident': Film Review

    It’s become common, if not cliché, for a critic reviewing a documentary about a turbulent real-world event to write something like, “It exerts the power of a true-life thriller!” Well, make no mistake: “The Dissident” does. Directed by Bryan Fogel, who in 2017 made the Oscar-winning “Icarus” (about the Russian doping of Olympic athletes), the [...]

  • Cathy Yan, Chris Messina, Mary Elizabeth

    Margot Robbie, 'Birds of Prey' Co-Stars Justify the Movie’s R-Rating, Violence and Cussing

    Following the success of “Joker” last year, DC Films is continuing its gritty streak with “Birds of Prey,” a slam-bang adventure about Harley Quinn. Though DC Film’s 2016 tentpole “Suicide Squad” took a critical bashing at the time, filmgoers quickly took a liking to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn. “Birds of Prey” gives the [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) has

    Film News Roundup: 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Added to Criterion Collection

    In today’s film news roundup, four Netflix titles have been added to the Criterion Collection, Slamdance and ArcLight are partnering, Steven Grayhm is starring in and directing a paranormal drama, and The Mammoth Film Festival sets its lineup. CRITERION COLLECTION Four Netflix titles will be released on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection — Martin Scorsese’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content