The film tells the story of an elderly and wealthy man (played by Garner) who leaves behind a video will that requires his grandson to perform various character- building tasks before he can inherit his grandfather's wealth. Add in the likes of Golden Globe winner Brian Dennehy and screen veteran Bill Cobbs, and it's no wonder that The Washington Post (and many others) have noted that the film is "well-acted by a first rate cast." "The film aims to inspire a generation," observed The Arizona Republic.
But what Eldridge didn't count on was that his film would be given tough reviews by the critics because of what they perceived as being hidden religious and social messages."Reeking of self-righteousness and moral reprimand, Michael O. Sajbel's "Ultimate Gift" is a hairball of good- for-you filmmaking . . . . The movie's messages - pro- poverty, anti-abortion - are methodically hammered home," says New York Times reviewer Jeannette Catsoulis. "There's an anti-abortion message jammed into one scene with all the subtlety of an avalanche. Just in case you miss it, it's repeated in the credits too. Some gift, eh?," wrote Chicago Tribune critic Lou Carlozo.
These assessments have been a surprise to Eldridge. "The film's single mom says she was glad she had her child. Calling that an anti-abortion message is a stretch," he said. "And while the film certainly does inspire people to be giving and compassionate, what does that have to do with being 'pro-poverty'? It's hard to know how to respond to that kind of criticism, except to say that it clearly incites the wrong things." Mostly, it seems that there just isn't any violence, cursing or sex in this movie, so a host of critics are calling it "sappy" or moralistic and wondering why moviegoers would pay to see it.
These days in Hollywood, it seems that it is rare to see a family movie critically acclaimed. "The Ultimate Gift is a people's film, not a critic's film," said Eldridge. "And there is, increasingly, a big difference between those two things." Eldridge points to this week's independent exit poll results from CinemaScore, which showed that a remarkable 99% of all respondents rated the film in the "A/B" category."This 'little film with a big heart', as one critic called it, celebrates the great American values of thrift, integrity, honor and family," Eldridge said. "I'm hoping that millions of Americans will ignore attempts to keep this film down and vote with their feet to send a message to the movie industry that a values- driven family movie about virtue can be a box-office hit."
The Sope-Bocks: I read the excerpts from reviews over at RottenTomatoes.com. It's offensive to me to see some movie critics give The Ultimate Gift a slight thumbs-up because the Christian values message isn't overt. It's as if a movie would be totally unacceptable if it directly spoke of God, salvation and the "s" word [sin]. With the likes of all of the truly EVIL movie content available these days (Saw, Hostel, 300, Dead Silence, etc), I can't see how anyone wouldn't want to embrace a clean, moral story that doesn't glamorize sadistic murder and disgustingly grotesque images.