Open Road Films
Rated PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language.
Running time: 127 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.
The irony in “Jobs,” about the late Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs, is not how a man could be so beloved and yet be such a bastard. The irony is that a man who treasured innovation and sleek, stylish design should be the subject of a film that’s so bland and bloated.
Director Joshua Michael Stern has given us the worst kind of cursory biopic: It spends a great deal of time recreating key events in a complex, famous person’s life without offering any real insight into what made him tick. (Jobs died in 2011 of pancreatic cancer at 56.) You would never know from watching “Jobs” that’s it’s about a person who changed the way all of us live our lives on a daily basis. I’m typing this review on my MacBook Pro, for example, and I just got a voicemail on my iPhone. This Steve Jobs operates in a vacuum in bedrooms and boardrooms, in garages and generic office space.
We know we’re in trouble from the very start; before heading into a lengthy flashback, the film begins in 2001 with Jobs introducing the iPod to an enraptured audience of disciples at Apple headquarters. It’s not enough to have them all leap to their feet in a frenzied standing ovation — heavy-handed, feel-good music swells to indicate to us that this is a major, inspiring moment.
As Jobs, Ashton Kutcher basks in the applause in that familiar hunched-over stance in dorky dad jeans and wire-rim glasses, his dark hair and beard now white. Kutcher has proven that there’s more substance to him than the endearingly dippy persona of Kelso on ‘That ’70s Show” and one of the “Dude, Where’s My Car?” dudes would suggest. But despite being media-savvy himself, he wasn’t ready to portray a technological and cultural titan — not just yet. Kutcher operates in two modes as Jobs: He’s either quietly and mysteriously pondering his next groundbreaking project, or he’s loudly and cruelly berating anyone who dares question his vision.
Then again, Matt Whiteley’s script doesn’t give him much more to work with. Too often, it feels like a repetitive series of meetings of middle-aged white men sitting around a conference-room table; at the other extreme, it makes giant leaps in time and leaves important questions unanswered. Stern, meanwhile, adds nothing with really obvious musical cues, as if loud ’70s rock tunes with on-the-nose lyrics will create a sense of propulsive forward momentum. Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” plays during Jobs’ acid-dropping college days; Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” with its distinctive guitar riff, blares as Jobs and his pals put together their first computers. (I was, however, happy to hear “Walk on the Ocean” by Toad the Wet Sprocket during the mid-’90s section of Jobs’ life. Those were good years.)
“Jobs” follows the man from his barefoot days at Reed College and his first job at Atari (where his boss declares he’s impossible to work with) through the creation of Apple Computers in his parents’ garage with pal Steve “Woz” Wozniak (Josh Gad from Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon,” who provides the rare traces of pathos and humanity here). Investor Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) steps in with financial support and poof! An empire is born.
From there, it’s a series of professional ups and downs. Jobs is hailed as a genius but also blamed for perfectionistic production delays and drops in the company’s stock price. His feud is with Microsoft guru Bill Gates emerges from nowhere and then just as quickly disappears. His cruelty to underlings is explained away with the cliche of power changing him. Eventually, he is the victim of a bloody coup (led by J.K. Simmons as board president and Matthew Modine as chief executive officer) but in time he returns, triumphant.
While we see the nuts and bolts of the machinery Jobs creates, we have a harder time understanding what he’s made of as a man. He was adopted, yet he coldly casts aside his own daughter when she’s still in his girlfriend’s womb and later denies paternity and visitation rights. Apparently, he and daughter Lisa have reconciled by the time he’s living a cushy life decades later as a consultant before coming back as Apple’s CEO. How that happened — or who his new beautiful and nameless new wife is, for example — are fundamental pieces that would have helped flesh him out as a human being.
There’s much bandying about of Jobs’ mantra that you need to offer people what they want before they even know they want it. The people behind “Jobs” theoretically knew that people would want an insightful film about an enormously influential figure, but they didn’t deliver it.