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MOVIE REVIEW

'Gift' is a syrupy act of charity

In "The Ultimate Gift," based on one of Jim Stoval's inspirational books, Drew Fuller (above) must overcome a series of trials before he can inherit a sizable sum left by his late grandfather. (TWENTIETH-CENTURY FOX)

As marginalized demographic enclaves go, no one in Hollywood has it worse than the Christians, not the gays, not the geriatrics, and not the brothers who like to dress up as rambunctious fat chicks. How could that be? They're such a force in other industries. Hoping to rectify this, 20th Century Fox has started its FoxFaith Movies division, of which "The Ultimate Gift" is the maiden outing. How is it? Well, let's charitably (and optimistically) call this FoxFaith's beta version.

"The Ultimate Gift" is based on one of Jim Stoval's inspirational books, which Cheryl McKay has fashioned into an equally uplifting melodrama. The message is clear almost immediately: charity not vanity.

In order to inherit his sizable share of his late grandfather's fortune, Jason (Drew Fuller) will have to renounce his lifestyle of privilege, profligacy, and alleged womanizing. To that end, his grandfather (James Garner), an oil baron and cattle magnate, left 12 videotaped instructions for Jason to follow. Grandpa calls them his gifts: the gift of work, of laughter, of family, of learning, of problems, et cetera.

They're more like trials to be overcome: penury, friendlessness, murderous South American guerrillas (for real). Along the way, Jason befriends a dying girl (Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin), falls for her mother (Ali Hillis), pays their overdue rent, and so much more.

That romance is the girl's wish. A decent screenplay, less risible acting, and more competent direction from Michael O. Sajbel would have been mine. The film contains two kinds of characters: the earnest and the obnoxious. Fuller is required to be despicable for so long that his change of personality is only somewhat persuasive: he seems obnoxiously earnest.

"The Ultimate Gift" is not out to proselytize. Religion is a state of mind. But Christian charity, in this movie, seems like a side-effect of capitalism. Jason is handsomely compensated for being good. His heart appears to be in the right place, and that place appears to be his wallet. I didn't leave wanting to be a better Christian. I left wanting to be a better trust-fund baby. How inspirational is that?

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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