By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
The qualities Steve Jobs famously displayed — ingenuity, purpose, vision — are curiously omitted from the computer pioneer's biopic. Jobs the movie isn't as fascinating as Jobs the man, much less the myth of entrepreneurial superiority he left behind.
Much of the blame falls on the decision to cast Ashton Kutcher as Jobs, a role that might have been a revelation of previous untapped talent. Yet Kutcher's performance, so inscrutable despite a simplistic screenplay, serves only to confirm the worst impressions of his emotive ability. He seems to have spent more time practicing Jobs' hunch-shouldered, shuffling gait than exploring his subject's mind.
Director Joshua Michael Stern begins somewhere in the middle of Jobs' landmark impact of civilization, with his announcement of the latest Apple invention, the iPod. It doesn't occur to him or first-time screenwriter Matt Whiteley that the ability to pack 1,000 songs into a portable handheld device is old hat in the Spotify era. The more currently influential iPad is never mentioned, or even the concept raised.
If anyone out there doesn't know who Steve Jobs is — a slim chance, to be sure — this movie won't help much. Superficial facts that Jobs profilers already shared are here again, sketching a barefooted, drug-taking college dropout with body odor maturing into a cultural and economic force after dropping acid and trekking to India for enlightenment. No surprise that Kutcher appears more at ease in these sequences than when asked to express the older, corporate Jobs who influenced more than one industry.
We get the idea that Jobs could be obnoxiously independent in thought and behavior, that he refused taking responsibility for a daughter born out of wedlock, that a vengeful streak determined several key business decisions. But these are character flaws mentioned only in passing, with Stern and Whiteley more interested in exalting Jobs' contributions to geekhood, and boardroom backstabbing while the money rolled in.
Too much of Stern's movie is spent on the latter confrontations, with Dermot Mulroney, J.K. Simmons and Matthew Modine portraying various shades of exasperation with Jobs' rebellious nature. It isn't very different in form from what The Social Network did with Mark Zuckerberg's creation of Facebook. The difference is that Jobs whitewashes the negative parts, slants them in the character's favor, while Zuckerberg's movie reveled in the insufferable nature of its subject. That movie was fun; Jobs isn't.
It's surprising that Stern and Whiteley stop short of covering Jobs' latter achievements — the iPad, iPhone, iTunes, revolutionary retail stores — and his Wall Street-rattling 2011 death. Even the material the movie does address has been called into question by his Apple-founding partner Steve Wozniak, played by Josh Gad. Jobs winds up as uninteresting and impenetrable as an Apple product user manual.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.