[Screen It]


(2013) (Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young man starts a computer company only to have to deal with its growing pains, including his relationship with those who helped him start it as well as clashing with a price conscious corporate board.
In 1974, Steve Jobs (ASHTON KUTCHER) is a smart young man who's trying to figure out his place in life, and while he's dropped out of Reed College, he still drops in for classes, much to the admiration of his friend, Daniel Kottke (LUKAS HAAS). Two years later, Steve is working for Atari and he calls in his friend, Steve "Woz" Wozniak (JOSH GAD), to help him complete a game project. Seeing a prototype computer that Woz has created, Steve believes they can sell it. With the help of Daniel, Rod Holt (RON ELDARD), Bill Fernandez (VICTOR RASUK) and young Chris Espinoza (EDDIE HASSELL), they create a computer company they decide to call Apple.

Their invention draws the attention of tech investor Mike Markkula (DERMOT MULRONEY), all of which results in rapid growth as well as the creation of a board of directors a few years later. Its chairman, Arthur Rock (J.K. SIMMONS), becomes concerned with Steve's wild-sounding ideas and associated cost overruns. Accordingly, Steve agrees to have John Sculley (MATTHEW MODINE), who previously ran Pepsi, hired as Apple's new CEO. But with Steve's prickly personality and demand for innovation and perfection, it's only a matter of time before things come to head in terms of leadership at the company once it goes public.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
They're often nearly as powerful as U.S. presidents and usually have far more money than any famous movie star or recording artist. Yet, real-life CEOs and other such business types have traditionally received the old short shrift when it comes to having their lives portrayed in a biopic. Arguably the most famous movie related to a business tycoon is "Citizen Kane," but that was just a fictional character loosely based on American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

In the last decade, however, we've had a run on movies about such folks (if "run" can be established with just two examples), first with "The Aviator" about Howard Hughes and then "The Social Network" that showcased Mark Zuckerberg and his creation and building of Facebook. With the success of those two, both financially and critically, it's no surprise that we now have "Jobs," a film about Microsoft founder Bill Gates and all of the jobs he created by selling a gazillion copies of Windows.

I jest, of course, as the film is really about that man's business archenemy, one Steven Paul Jobs. He was the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. who passed away in 2011 at the age of 56 after bringing his beloved company back from the brink of financial disaster after having been unceremoniously pushed out and replaced many years earlier by his own board.

This is his tale, or at least one truncated and episodic part of it spanning from 1974 to 1996, with just a brief prologue set in 2001 when he first introduced the iPod to some of his own. Following that, the flick rewinds back to his college days (and his use of LSD), and then moves forward to his work at Atari (where his buddy Steve Wozniak saved his rear by helping work on a project), creating the company, and then its various products, all while having to deal with dollar-conscious board members.

It's a fascinating true story with all sorts of potential for a big screen adaptation. Alas, director Joshua Michael Stern ("Swing Vote" with Kevin Costner) -- working from a script by Matt Whiteley -- has delivered something of a Cliff's Notes offering that touches on various highlights and notable moments, but never delves much below the surface of the man, what made him tick, and the ever-changing times in which he operated.

Granted, like any biopic, it's next to impossible to jam every last detail of a famous person's life into a two-hour or so movie. Even so, the man had a fascinating life (check out his Wikipedia page for all the details) and so much of that's missing from this film that you really feel shortchanged once you've taken a look at his various ups, downs and in-between moments. That includes his long adversarial relationship with Gates, something apparently touched on in the 1999 made for TV movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" (that I have not seen), but that only gets a brief, one-sided telephone call scene here.

It certainly doesn't help that Stern seems more interested in throwing well-known period songs into the various montages scattered throughout the film, not to mention all sorts of edits, quick camera moves and the like, rather than exploring the origins of what motivated Jobs to be such an innovator, detail and quality freak and, according to some, Jekyll and Hyde sort of boss likely to make many an employee avert his or her eyes and/or duck out of sight upon the big man's arrival (talk is you never wanted to take an elevator ride with him for fear of not being able to justify your employment between the time the doors closed and then opened again).

Of course, what most people focus on with such biopics is whether the performer chosen to portray the famous person gets the performance right. That heavy obligation (since so many people know what Jobs looked like compared to, say, GE's Jack Welch) falls upon none other than Ashton Kutcher. While our first introduction to him (the 2001 scene) is fairly spot on (the beard, the glasses, the somewhat hunched over way he carried himself along with his somewhat unusual gait), the subsequent "way back" scenes are trickier to pull off as much of those signature elements weren't and thus aren't present.

Although I was expecting an awful performance (based on early reports of just that), I found that Kutcher does an okay job with the part, especially considering the script and direction don't give him much latitude with which to explore the character beyond the sometimes seething "Why are you talking to me?" and "I'm clearly smarter than you" facial expressions.

The supporting performances are decent but otherwise unremarkable, with Josh Gad playing Wazniak; Lukas Haas as longtime friend Daniel who gets left behind the success; J.K. Simmons as the financially conservative Chairman of the Board; and Matthew Modine as former Pepsi CEO John Sculley who's both brought in and then later despised by Jobs. An end credits sequence showing the real men and the actors playing them shows the casting director and hair and make-up artists did a commendable job matching them up.

Overall, "Jobs" isn't horrible, but that very fact would seemingly make the late tech giant cringe since this isn't anywhere near the perfect portrayal of him and doesn't ultimately do anything for the viewer beyond providing a cursory summary of just part of his life. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 13, 2013 / Posted August 16, 2013

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