The Ultimate Life (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox / 2013 / 110 mins / PG
Did there really need to be a sequel to the 2007 sentimental soft-drama The Ultimate Gift? Wasn't the whole message of family and faith are more important than wealth thoroughly crammed down our throats enough with that film? Did the filmmakers honestly think there was enough material in that film to expand into a sequel? More importantly, who really wanted a sequel? Because, honestly, there is hardly anything carried over with the exception of the most blunt message I've ever been beaten over the head with in film.
Jason Stevens is having a tough time running his grandfather's foundation with his family suing him for money and his girlfriend leaving for a medical mission in Haiti. But when he discovers his grandfather's journal, Jason is taken back to a time when his grandpa, Red Stevens, rose above his poor life and became a billionaire during times of war and change. And, for the rest of the movie, we're stuck with the life story of Red. Through Red's travels, he acquires great wealth, but also learns valuable lessons in gratefulness, family and spirituality. In turn, so does Jason.
It feels weird that a story like this would warrant a feature-length movie. This could've easily been a 40-minute episode of Touched by an Angel or a Lifetime TV movie. I say this only because the movie appears as a broken record, repeating the same moral over and over through each section of Red's life. Yes, it's a good message, but it keeps slapping you with the blunt statement of "money is bad and family is good" that this almost feels like a punishment. Did I do something wrong? Have I neglected my family too much for my job? Is that why I'm being treated to corny melodramatics with a lackluster production?
So many scenes from Red's life are glazed over with a stereotypical tone and an incredibly cheap production. For instance, there is a scene where Red is fighting the war in Italy, but it honestly just looks like a bunch of actors in fatigues running through Midwest forests. Thankfully, this scene doesn't last too long, but then again so does almost every other scene. They only serve their purpose to nail home the key point of the film and then move on to the next bit. Even with the brisk pace, it still feels overlong just for the fact that they all follow the same repetitive theme.
I know this film is going to have a certain audience who will appreciate that type of writing. It's inoffensive, very light on subtlety and has a moral core so huge it's almost disgusting. Just like the last film, it has all heart and little brains. It's soft, mushy melodrama perfectly prepared for those who want a simple and nice movie without any major surprises. I can understand why some will love the film for that reason, but I just don't understand why this needed to be a theatrical film of feature length. It just seems better suited for the Hallmark or Lifetime channel with a built-in audience ready to eat it up on debut.
Fox has presented a handsome Blu-ray even if it isn't the most lavish production. The 1.78:1 widescreen looks exceptionally bold and crisp, despite some shoddy spots here and there. The DTS-HD Master Audio also provides a solid mix of crystal clear dialogue, music and sound effects that makes decent use of most of the speakers.
For a release such as this, there is a decent amount of extras including a behind the scenes featurette, interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes and a music video.
The Ultimate Life has good intentions, but none of the writing or creativity to make it truly work on a level outside of a strictly moral piece. This is one for the grandparents seeking a nice little wholesome drama that'll make them feel good in the simplest way. For them, I can easily recommend this for that crowd. Those seeking a more challenging drama that doesn't have the subtlety of a wrecking ball should look elsewhere.