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Movie review: 'Jobs'

Jobs

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Ahna O’Reilly

Rating: PG-13 (drug content and brief strong language)

Run time: 122 min.


Posted 5:08pm on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013

The late Steve Jobs was nothing less than a revolutionary.

Via the company he co-founded with Steve Wozniak, Apple Computer, Inc., Jobs introduced technology the general public never knew it wanted — the iMac, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad.

Each new gizmo or piece of software, in its way, permanently altered the way humanity interfaced — no small feat.

And when Jobs died in 2011, as a result of pancreatic cancer, he was held up as a genius for our time, a man whose tenacious vision had changed the world forever.

So why does Jobs, the first biopic to reach screens in the wake of his death, feel so pedestrian?

Even worse, why does the film — made without any cooperation from Apple — succumb to nearly every possible cliche, turning Jobs and his collaborators into nothing more than vessels of platitudes?

Jobs, and his legacy, deserve far better than what director Joshua Michael Stern and screenwriter Matt Whiteley have assembled here.

The Apple co-founder’s life is compressed into just over two hours and only covers about 20 years of his life. Opening in 2001, as Jobs introduces a handful of Apple employees to the first generation of the iPod, the film then flashes back to the early ’70s, when Jobs was a student at Oregon’s Reed College.

From there, the film traces his rise and fall and rise, as he helps create personal computers, clashes with corporate power structures and struggles to maintain his vision, before ultimately ascending to a position of power he would hold until his untimely death.

What his exact vision is, of course, is a bit fuzzy and not articulated very well by the filmmakers. When in doubt, the inspirational music is cranked up on the soundtrack, and light suffuses the screen, bathing everyone in a Glow of Importance.

For those coming to the film cold, the interchangeable CEOs and board members and even Apple employees might become a chaotic blur. The filmmakers assume the audience’s familiarity with Jobs’ story, and gloss over what might, in other films, be better explained. (The decision to end the film where it does is downright baffling.)

Journalist Walter Isaacson wrote a terrific, authorized biography of Jobs, published not long after his death in 2011.

In that 650-page tome, the full complexity of the man could be explored, and many of Jobs’ personality quirks and occasionally paradoxical behavior felt cohesive.

In short, Jobs came across as a flawed but immensely talented man. (Isaacson’s book has been optioned by Sony Pictures, and is being adapted by Aaron Sorkin.)

While a two-hour, thinly fictionalized film obviously can’t approach similar depths, Jobs never even tries.

As played by Ashton Kutcher, who never effectively conveys the innovator’s internal life, Jobs comes across as a willful, flippant sort who despises being told no.

It’s a painfully one-note performance that all but sinks the film before it gets going — there’s not much effort made to have Kutcher resemble Jobs, nor does he try to approximate Jobs’ distinctive, adenoidal voice.

His co-stars don’t fare much better: Josh Gad brings a little levity, and some gravitas, as Steve Wozniak, while Ron Eldard, Dermot Mulroney, Kevin Dunn and Lukas Haas fill in the margins to varying degrees of success.

Given that Kutcher figures into nearly every single scene, there is only so much the supporting cast can do.

One of Apple’s popular taglines, after Jobs returned to the fold in the late ’90s, was “think different.”

It’s not difficult to watch Jobs, a turgid misfire from start to finish, and fervently wish the filmmakers behind it had done exactly that.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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