Over and over again, as I watched "Jobs," the biopic about the founder of Apple
Inc., I was reminded of the company's immense influence on technology, the
economy and especially my own life.
Sadly, this was not because of the movie, but because of the iPhone on which I kept discreetly checking the time to see how long before the film's ending - which couldn't come soon enough.
At best, "Jobs" is a tasteful TV movie of the week, bland but competent, inoffensive but inherently forgettable. At worst, it's a superficial, lackluster gloss on a man whose life deserves far better treatment and far more scrutiny.
The movie, which stars Ashton Kutcher in the title role, seems content to recount the well-known highlights from Steve Jobs' extraordinary life. But it adds nothing in the process and ultimately ends in a failure of nerve.
After a brief opener re-creating the news conference at which Jobs announced the first iPod, we flash back to Reed College in the 1970s. Jobs is a dropout, yet self-motivated with wide and eclectic interests. He takes classes on computers and design, drops acid with friends and travels the world. He ultimately ends up partnering with tech wizard Steve Wozniak - first on a project for video game company Atari and then to build a series of computers.
From an unassuming California garage, Apple is born. But, of course, it's a rocky ride. Even as the company revolutionizes the personal computer, Jobs proves obsessive and difficult to manage. He clashes with the board of directors repeatedly and is removed from the company.
Director Joshua Michael Stern and writer Matt Whiteley dutifully tour viewers through the ups and downs of Apple's corporate life, and Jobs' parallel existence as its founder. But they have almost nothing interesting to say about either. The movie sticks closely to the conventional narratives that Jobs was a genius and also a jerk, that Mr. Wozniak was the true technical talent behind the company's rise, that despite how unmanageable Jobs was, the company's stiff corporate higher-ups were wrong to reject him and his vision.
Many of the key moments are there, although the film brushes rapidly past Jobs' time in the wilderness as the head of NeXT, the tech company he ran with generally dismal results during his time away from Apple. The movie also leaves out Xerox, which invented much of the intuitive graphical display technology that Jobs would go on to popularize - and, in the view of many, pilfer.
Mr. Kutcher is a serviceable mimic, but offers nothing besides a one-note physical impersonation. He seems to have based his performance off of videos of Jobs' public appearances, but the result is an unconvincing character who always acts and talks as if he is giving a presentation to investors, even during intimate conversations. There's no sense of Jobs' inner life, no hint about who he might be when he is out of public view. (It doesn't help that Mr. Whiteley's script has Jobs speak entirely in overly polished phrases.)
"Do you know why people buy an Apple?" Jobs says to an Apple employee at one point. "Because it's got bravado. I would rather bet on our vision than make a me-too product." And that's just what "Jobs" is. There's no vision to speak of here, and certainly no bravado.
Unlike the real Steve Jobs, "Jobs" won't change anything.
ONE AND ONE-HALF STARS
CREDITS: Directed by Joshua Michael Stern, written by Matt Whiteley
RATING: PG-13 for language, drug use
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
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