The new biopic “Jobs” is a solidly informative and entertaining “Brief History of Apple,” as seen through the eyes of its co-founding genius. We experience 30 years of Steve Jobs’ mercurial life and times, with plenty of tastes — but only tastes — of triumph plus a few dashes of comeuppance.
Arrogant, selfish, obsessive, an idealistic, perfectionist credit-hog who rolled over friends, adversaries, colleagues and lovers with a single-mindedness that fit his lurching, simian gait — the movie about him only has time to hint at what made the man tick and can only touch on Steve’s greatest hits and shortcomings.
It’s superficial, but that plays into the hands of the film’s star, Ashton Kutcher. He may be a screen lightweight, but the impersonation, starting with that famous walk, the famous explosions of temper, and the hissing, spitting, insulting take-downs the man was famous for, are spot on.
The film is framed within the crowning glory of Jobs’ and Apple’s comeback, the 2001 arrival of the iPod, a music delivery device that was as “revolutionary” as every product Jobs pushed for and hyped. “Jobs” flashes back to the hippie kid who recognized talent, and then inspired, nagged, badgered talent to accept nothing less than products — personal computers, onward — for which “the market doesn’t exist yet.”
Director Joshua Michael Stern (“Swing Vote”), working from a Matt Whiteley script, is most at home underlining — complete with soaring violins on the soundtrack — the red-letter moments in Apple’s history, especially early ones. The film captures the sad arc of the bromance between Jobs and the tech whiz and soldering savant Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), a nerd’s nerd with a lot of interests. He basically invented the personal computer and went into business with Jobs not just for the challenge, the money and the adventure, but for the chance to hang out “with the coolest guy” he’d ever met.
“Jobs” details the odd diets, fast cars and Bob Dylan mania of its hero, but never really gets under the skin of this adopted kid craving acceptance. We understand his passion for design, but his “Eureka!” moments — realizing portable CD players are “junk,” the unveiling of the Macintosh “1984” TV commercial — play as bland.
The saga makes note of but doesn’t dwell on the daughter Jobs refused for much of his life to acknowledge. Yes, he named the troubled “Lisa” project after her, but he only mellowed enough to accept her much later in life. And the story ends before his last great act of stubbornness — relying on diet and other ineffective holistic means to battle a perfectly treatable cancer.
The boardroom intrigues (Dermot Mulroney, J.K. Simmons and Matthew Modine turn up as Apple bigwigs here) are a bit dull and tend to dominate the movie.
It makes for a decent but rushed film, and makes you wish this team and their effort had been aimed at a cable TV miniseries. Nothing less than the history of the modern world can be gleaned from this one life, and squeezing it into two hours makes “Jobs” more of a chore than it should be.
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas
Directed by Joshua Michael Stern, written by Matt Whiteley. An Open Road release
Running time: 2:02
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some drug content and brief strong language