If you're like me, the only thing you know about the late Steve Jobs is that he was the face and name behind every Apple product. But if you go into JOBS, the new movie inspired by the charismatic mogul, with that finite knowledge, you may very well discern that the man many looked up to might have been a sociopath.
That's not just because Ashton Kutcher, who plays the titular character, often falls into trance-like states when struggling to exude emotion in the film's more dramatic scenes (his effort is noted, but unsuccessful). It's more on account of Matt Whiteley's jagged storytelling and failure to humanize a well-known figure, something that should come par with taking on a biopic. Whiteley, who according to IMDB has no previous credits, painted a flat portrayal of Jobs, which is mostly made up of explosive board meeting disagreements, flagrant dismissals of those closest to him, and one great skill--identifying the genius of others and cashing in on it (using erratic business measures).
Despite its subtle attempts to rip off the far superior The Social Network--the liquidation of assets of co-founders, boardroom antics, social ineptitude and a loner look complete with the rejection of shoes--JOBS is neither compelling nor witty. It's obvious that everyone involved in the film, including director Joshua Michael Stern, presented it with the assumption that the audience already knew both Jobs and his progression to the top--both personally and professionally. Too many of Jobs' biggest blow-ups and outbursts are delivered with little to no pretense, while other scenes make arbitrary references or feature characters that are never explained.
For instance, we see Jobs blow a gasket when his girlfriend (Ahna O'Reilly) reveals she's pregnant with his child, even throws out her belongings and orders her to leave. At this point in the film, we have no idea which year this is, which is outrageous because 1) the movie is fairly diligent with time stamps until they're actually needed, and 2) this comes after an earlier scene with Jobs lamenting to said girlfriend over how his biological parents just "threw him away." Irony? Or is this a weird case of the pot calling the kettle black? We don't know what causes this particularly extravagant temper tantrum that, like many others, is never really mentioned again. Basically, the whole movie is made up of uninteresting (or alarming for the sake of being just so) snapshots that happened to be in chronological order inside of a movie that pretends to be a biopic.
To make matters even more ridiculous, Kutcher attempts to interpret Jobs' walk, which can only be described as having crap in his pants with a mild backache. It's just odd, and unnecessary even if it's true. In fact, much of Kutcher's performance borders on cartoonish, exacerbated by the obvious makeup (put to the test in the only scene that showed Jobs as an older man in 2001) and his hollow attempt to act like like Jobs rather than embody him. Too often the audience is taken out of the scene with thoughts of Hey, isn't that Ashton Kutcher? simply because the portrayal comes off too contrived.
However, a bright note in the movie comes whenever Josh Gad is in a scene. He plays Jobs' lowly co-founder Steve Wozniak, the real brainchild behind Apple, whose knack and passion for technology was first spotted by Jobs, who turned it into an empire. For the sake of identification, you can simply call him the Eduardo Saverin to Jobs' Mark Zuckerberg (yes, another The Social Network reference). But, unlike Eduardo, it wasn't Steve's finances that were diluted but his friendship with Jobs. In a few brief but effectively heartbreaking scenes, we see Steve mourn to Jobs over the loss of their solidarity and excitement for what they were each trying to accomplish (for Steve it was simply to have fun getting paid doing what he loved; for Jobs, it is still unclear). Predictably, Kutcher's Jobs is completely stone-faced.
Right now, a filmmaker somewhere is eagerly researching Jobs' life and those closest to him (if those type of people exist) to provide a full scope of Jobs for a good movie that doesn't just rely on his name and unidentified passion to hook an audience. In the meantime, let's just pretend this one never happened.
Rating: D- (* out of *****)