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Case Number 26833: Small Claims Court

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The Ultimate Life (Blu-ray)

Fox // 2013 // 110 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 13th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan hopes this picture isn't part of his ultimate afterlife.

The Charge

Some things are worth more than money.

The Case

One of the most interesting moments in Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great is his mention of the fact that we have thousands of years worth of literary descriptions of hell and all its torments, and yet no one has produced as convincing a version of heaven. Whether we want to quibble with the assertion or not, it's easy to see that a work like Dante's Inferno is much more popular than any equivalent conception of heaven, and the Inferno has guided our culture's imaginations since. More importantly for me, what Hitchens really points out is that as a species we seem much more amenable to the stick than the carrot. Or, to put it into film terms, The Exorcist, with its visions of possession and demons, has probably shored up more tenuous faiths than all the family friendly Christian fare released since the first motion picture. The Ultimate Life continues the trend, offering transparent platitudes that might comfort the faithful, but will no doubt bore the faithless.

The Ultimate Life is a sequel to the 2006 The Ultimate Gift. In the first film, Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) hoped to inherit a ton of money from his grandfather. Instead, he became the head of a multibillion-dollar charity. This allowed him to learn various life lessons that he desperately needed. Now, Jason (played this time by Logan Bartholomew, American Wedding) is in another crisis, but this time he has his grandfather's journal, which takes us through flashback, to how he earned his billions through hard work and family values.

What you get with The Ultimate Life is a totally needless sequel that continues in the tradition of faith-based drama. It's competently put together and has a message that will leave its target audience feeling warm and fuzzy. Michael Landon Jr. helms things with an even hand that respects what the script is trying to do. He eschews overly daring or overly pedestrian choices in presenting the flashbacks and tying everything together. In front of the camera we have the return of James Garner, Bill Cobbs, and Lee Meriwether along with newcomers like Logan Bartholomew and Abigail Breslin. They handle their roles easily, offering the script's platitudes with enough gravity to sell them.

I use the word "unnecessary" to speak about The Ultimate Life purposefully. Though most sequels are unnecessary, they attempt to follow the formula of the first film. The Ultimate Life, instead, tries to be both sequel and prequel. For a horror film, where the secret origin of a villain or hero might hold some dramatic weight, that would be a good idea. In this case, however, we already know all the lessons that "Red" has to learn on his journey to becoming the benevolent figure of the first film. Those are exactly the lessons that Jason had to learn in The Ultimate Gift. Giving us an explicit depiction of Red's foibles will either turn audiences off the eventual benefactor or make his journey unnecessary. It's a weird choice to basically redouble the first movie without really saying anything new.

Unlike many faith-based flicks, The Ultimate Life wasn't just dumped carelessly on home video. Instead, it gets a solid Blu-ray release that starts with a serviceable 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer. It has a clean, contemporary look to it, with plenty of detail and well-saturated colors. There's a bit of treatment to the flashback scenes, but it's handled well. Black levels are consistent and deep, with no serious artifacts to worry about. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround track is similarly fine. Dialogue is always clean and clear from the front, and the surrounds get a bit of usage here and there for atmosphere.

Extras start with a featurette that covers the making of the film, and then we get interviews with the cast, the film's producer, and novelist Jim Stovall. Some deleted scenes are included, along with a music video and a Digital Copy of the film.

Hating on The Ultimate Life is like kicking a puppy. More than that, like kicking the runt of the litter. It's tiny, and largely innocent, and doesn't want to make a fuss. Someone out there will no doubt love it for its qualities, but to the average viewer, it will always be just a little runt. So unless you're already down with the "family first" agenda of The Ultimate Gift and moreover really, really wished there had been a "secret origin" tale for Red, then The Ultimate Life is probably not for you. At least the faithful get a decent Blu-ray release out of the deal.

The Verdict

Not guilty, but that's not saying much.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Blu-ray
• Drama
• Religious and Spiritual

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Featurette
• Interviews
• Music Video
• Digital Copy


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