Film Review: 'Jobs' biopic is fine, but it lacks spice

In making this new biopic about Apple founder Steve Jobs, writer/director Joshua Michael Stern (“Swing Vote,” “Neverwas”) had to deal with all the dangers inherent to the form. These are the same dangers facing anyone writing about the film. Was Jobs a visionary? A perfectionist? An egomaniacal control freak? A realist? Back in the 1940s, another visionary/control freak named Orson Welles dealt with these problems in “Citizen Kane” by presenting multiple POVs; David Fincher used a little of that strategy for “The Social Network,” his 2010 movie about Facebook magnate Mark Zuckerberg.

Rather than multiple POVs, Stern spins his version of Jobs' career from a single omniscient perspective. Much like a political candidate trying to be that elusive, even imaginary, creature called a “centrist,” Stern has cooked a number of legends and facts about Jobs into an enjoyable stew with very little spice. This compromise recipe will likely draw the same reaction from the Apple founder's fans and detractors — both sides either loving it or hating it in tandem.

One thing that can't be denied is the quality of Ashton Kutcher's lead performance. For one thing, it's hard to think of any youngish actors who would be physically as appropriate; it doesn't take any unusual makeup to make him a believable Jobs. But he also nails the character's vocal delivery and walk well enough to pull it off.

Except for a bit of a framing device, the film tells its story in a straightforward chronological way. In the mid-’70s, Jobs recognizes the future world suggested by the notion of a personal computer; so he exploits the motherboard designed by his uber-geek friend Steve Wozniak (Joshua Gad).

In retrospect, Jobs' vision seems obvious; in that era, however, the notion of a home computer was so ludicrous as to serve as a joke in Woody Allen's 1969 film, “Take the Money and Run.”

Woz turns out to be too geeky to present his invention, even to a bunch of fellow geeks, and Jobs — better looking and better spoken — becomes the new company's public face. After a rocky start manufacturing the Apple I in the Jobs family garage, unexpected funding from wealthy Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) allows Jobs and Wozniak to put out the Apple II — a design so popular that, ironically, it outlasted all of its early competition, including Apple's own subsequent designs — notably the absurdly expensive Lisa. Jobs named the Lisa after the daughter he angrily refused to acknowledge until much later — which is creepier than anything the allegedly less-ready-for-primetime Woz, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg ever did.

Three years later, Jobs reigns over the Apple campus. Inevitably his approach comes to loggerheads with the practices of most American commerce and he experiences a downfall and comeback second only to the one found in the New Testament.

“Jobs” is no visionary Mac or Lisa: It's a competent, reasonably entertaining film, lifted by a fine cast, including Lukas Haas, Matthew Modine, JK Simmons, Kevin Dunn, Lesley Ann Warren and James Woods. And maybe Kutcher's performance will finally lift the goofball “Dude, Where's My Car?” stigma from his career.


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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