Ashton Kutcher has mastered Steve Jobs’ stooped gait and steely gaze. From certain angles he bears a striking resemblance to the late Apple co-founder. The actor clearly put a ton of work into this part, and even though he’s ultimately less than convincing in the role of renegade technology genius, he deserves credit for making the effort, at least.
So this is the real problem with “Jobs,” the movie: How is it possible to turn such an epic story into such a boring film?
That was the consensus after an impromptu GeekWire Movie Night on Thursday, when GeekWire’s John Cook, Findwell’s Kevin Lisota and I caught an early showing of the new movie, which will be broadly released in theaters today. (We got to the screening early, because I thought there might be a mob of Apple fans outside. In reality, we watched with 16 people in a nearly empty theater.)
After seeing the trailer and an early clip, I went in with low expectations for Kutcher’s performance. But it was at least mildly interesting to watch him attempt to embody Jobs. My bigger frustration was that Apple’s actual story was far more dramatic than this movie.
People who read the Walter Isaacson book or follow the tech industry — the ones who should theoretically enjoy the movie the most — will instead walk away scratching their heads over the story … if they stay awake through it.
John’s conclusion: It should have been a made-for-television movie. If that’s the case, I’d actually prefer Pirates of Silicon Valley for its unabashed campiness.
The fundamental problem is the choice of timeframe. “Jobs” focuses on the period from Apple’s creation to Jobs’ ouster and his return to lead the company. The development of the original Apple, the Apple II, the Lisa and the Mac get lots of attention. In the opening scene, Jobs is shown introducing the iPod to Apple employees.
These are obviously important historical events. However, the iPhone and the iPad are completely left out of the story. It seems crazy to release a film about Apple in 2013 without at least a nod the company’s iconic smartphone and tablet, to give current audiences a frame of reference for the historical material.
At times, the movie feels like it’s checking off boxes and charging through a superficial outline of the Apple story. But if that’s the case, there are many moments missing: No visit to the XEROX Palo Alto Research Center. No Macworld 1997. No iPhone unveiling. No reference to Jobs’ illness or his decision to initially forgo the medical treatments that might have ultimately saved his life.
Even though I was more than ready for the movie to end, I was surprised when the credits rolled. How can anyone tell the Steve Jobs story without moments like those? Maybe they’re somehow under the impression that there will be a sequel, John speculates. If that’s the case, they’re delusional.
Kutcher’s embodiment of Jobs’ walking style is remarkable, but the director is clearly just a little too impressed with the impersonation, and it’s completely overdone in extended scenes showing the Apple co-founder’s looping stride as he walked through the office. Yes, that’s how Jobs walked in his 50s, like an aging guy with a tender back. But in his 20s? That seems hard to believe.
Also: Where is Bill Gates? The Microsoft chairman is on the other end of the phone line in one scene, getting chewed out by Jobs for “stealing” his software. In one of the movie’s funniest lines, Jobs calls Gates a “psychopathic criminal” — but there’s never an actual Gates character on screen. By glossing over the Apple vs. Microsoft battle, the movie misses a huge opportunity for actual drama.
Instead, it delivers a series of tedious boardroom battles centered on Jobs’ role at the company, as he butts heads with original Apple angel investor Mike Markkula and replacement Apple CEOs John Sculley and Gil Amelio — who are just fine as hapless corporate executives, but subpar as movie villains.
As Kevin pointed out, there wasn’t really a villain in this movie. And despite all of Kutcher’s efforts, the story itself offers a muted portrayal of Jobs. In the movie, the Apple co-founder is not nearly the asshole nor the genius that he seemed to be in real life.
Yes, there are the trademark lines. The first Macintosh isn’t just great, it’s “insanely great.” But much of the rest is hard to swallow. Laying in a field while tripping on acid, Jobs asks why his parents gave him up for adoption, and his friend complains that he’s bringing him down. In one of the movie’s most unintentionally funny lines, Jobs replies, “I’m sorry my life is ruining your high.”
Nice try, Ashton, but we’ll just take that as an apology for this entire film.
Our consensus letter grade: C. And that’s charitable.