What do you do when you’ve learned what you really need to know? How about learning how your teacher learned the lessons he taught you?
That’s the idea, anyway, behind The Ultimate Life, the sequel-prequel to the 2006 faith-based melodrama The Ultimate Gift — both based on the inspirational novels by Jim Stovall.
In The Ultimate Gift, Jason Stevens, the wastrel grandson of a billionaire (James Garner), has to accomplish a series of seemingly thankless tasks to gain his inheritance — and learn what’s really valuable in life.
In The Ultimate Life, it’s a few years later, and despite doing good work by turning a big chunk of the family fortune into a thriving charity foundation, Jason is being hounded by his family, who want to grab the foundation’s money for themselves.
Jason (Logan Bartholomew) is so distracted by his family feud that he can’t finish proposing to his girlfriend (Ali Hillis) — or find the time to listen to her plans to work at a cancer clinic in Haiti.
When she leaves for Haiti — he doesn’t even read her good-bye note until he’s finished a daylong meeting with his legal team — a distraught Jason seeks advice from a lifelong friend of the family (Bill Cobbs), who also was his grandfather’s longtime friend and lawyer. He gives Jason his grandfather’s journal, urging him to read the old man’s life story for inspiration in handling his own predicament.
What he reads, and we see, is the story of a teenager (Austin James) who — inspired by Andrew Carnegie and his story of self-made success and late-in-life philanthropy — is determined to become a billionaire through hard work and not taking “no” for an answer. But as he amasses his fortune, he starts to lose sight of what’s really important — until a crisis close to home makes him see things differently.
The Ultimate Life is thinly drawn, but director Michael Landon, Jr., keeps it moving and doesn’t let things get bogged down in too much sentiment, keeping the message simple and spare.
In that, he gets some help from a couple old pros. Cobbs, who played the same role in the first Ultimate movie, brings an understated gravitas and charm, while Peter Fonda, as a rancher who offers practical counsel to the young billionaire wannabe, says more in a glance than a speech could deliver.