Ashton Kutcher stars in shallow biopic on Apple co-founder

Maniacal user interface.

Maniacal user interface.

Starring Ashton Kutcher, Josh Gad, Matthew Modine and Dermot Mulroney. Directed by Joshua Michael Stern. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 2.0

As biopics go, Jobs isn’t boring and moves along breezily enough for its two hours. On the other hand, it’s not all that compelling either. In attempting to illustrate what made an ambitious man tick, the movie itself isn’t very ambitious, content instead to offer a homogenized series of events that smack of re-enactment rather than a collection of moments that illuminate the subject for which it attempts to create empathy.

Not that empathy and Steve Jobs are usually mentioned in the same breath. By most accounts, the dude was an asshole. A clever, brilliant, visionary asshole, but an asshole nonetheless. More Edison than Tesla, he was skilled at wrapping other folks’ fruit in his own brand and selling it for fame and fortune.

In fact, the late co-founder and CEO of Apple comes across as a sociopath, and the film doesn’t do much to offer a counterargument. By no means a fluff piece, the movie seems content to step back and admire Jobs’ ruthlessness. Uneasily enough, the movie almost serves as a hagiography of a selfish bastard, anointing Jobs as the role model for those ambitious types who think that empathy is for losers and that being mean justifies the end, that within the corporate infrastructure of America, empathy is not only a useless commodity, but a liability.

Who knows whether or not Jobs actually was a sociopath. But, intentionally or not, that’s how the movie paints him, with a few brushstrokes of OCD thrown in. I don’t know enough about the man to argue the point. I do enjoy the fruits of his obsession, but I didn’t pay him all that much attention as a pop-culture icon. Regardless, most of what Jobs illustrates is already familiar. Which underlines another failing of the movie: It’s a collection of footnotes that are already part of the public’s consciousness, and doesn’t dig any deeper than the man’s Wikipedia entry.

It might have been interesting to get some more dirt from behind the scenes, say of the implication of Bill Gates and his epic industrial “pwnage” (pronounced “pone-age,” aka ownage, as in to be owned). But all we get with the Microsoft co-founder here is about 30 seconds of Jobs bellowing insults and threats at the creep over the phone. And then we’re off to some other re-enactment.

As the title character, Ashton Kutcher has the look, but lacks the chops. And while he’s competent enough working within his limited Keanu Reeves range, there’s more than a few times when his caricature of Jobs consists of nothing but a creepy “Kubrick stare” and a bob-bob-bobbing along as he stalks the halls of Apple like some cartoon raptor. Maybe the man really acted like that. If so, Kutcher doesn’t make it organic. If there was a soul somewhere in Jobs, Kutcher fails to convey it. And if there was redemption to all this ruthlessness, the movie fails to cultivate it. Instead, after he ultimately destroys everyone who ever crossed him, we’re rewarded with a final image of a smirking Jobs, his feet kicked up on the desk of an empty boardroom, coming across as some kind of Randian hero.