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Boring Ultimate Life is a needless continuation of The Ultimate Gift

by Mark Burger

Whatever one thought of The Ultimate Gift (2006), a faithbased melodrama based on Jim Stovall’s popular novel, it basically told a complete, self-contained story. The Ultimate Life, the inevitable(?) follow-up based on Stovall’s subsequent novel, sifts through the leftovers of the earlier story in an attempt to come up with one of its own. Not unlike many sequels, it tends to rehash the first film’s themes to (far) lesser effect.

The new film again focuses on earnest, handsome Jason Stevens (Logan Bartholomew steps in for  Drew Fuller), whose chairmanship of his late grandfather’s Red financial trust is challenged by members of his own family.

While Jason wrestles with this contemporary dilemma, the story flashes back to the early years of Red (Drew Waters), detailing how he gained his fortune in oil and built his empire. The film lurches between the two stories, which run parallel to each other in TV-movie fashion, often lapsing into sub-standard soap opera.

The film is meant to be uplifting, but is usually just the opposite, thanks in large part to an uninspired screenplay (credited to Brian Bird, Lisa G. Schillingburg and Cheryl McKay, the latter also having penned the earlier film’s screenplay). Director Michael Landon Jr. throws in some sun-dappled sentiment to little effect, and the wildcatting scenes offer faint and feeble echoes of George Stevens’ Giant (1955).

The Ultimate Life was filmed in the Carolinas (including locations in the Piedmont Triad), although the terrain doesn’t much resemble Texas and even less resembles war-torn European in the 1940s. The various eras that the film encapsulates are generally represented by vintage clothing styles but not much else. (Were push-button phones common in the 1960s?) There’s brief introductory footage of James Garner as the wizened Red from the first film — enough, evidently, to give the actor top billing in the end credits — and encore appearances by Bill Cobbs and Lee Meriwether, although neither has much to do. Peter Fonda turns up in cameo appearance as young Red’s mentor, who offers the obligatory sage wisdom before departing. One of the film’s many problems is that it offers no surprises whatsoever while trudging along at a tired, uninspired pace.

Even the faith-based elements are awkwardly and arbitrarily wedged into the story, almost as an afterthought. Actually, much of The Ultimate Life feels like an afterthought. It’s completely unnecessary.

The Ultimate Life is scheduled to open Friday in select theaters

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