The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 25, 2013

Benji Tunnell: 'Jobs' doesn't match the man who inspired it

By Benji Tunnell
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Steve Jobs was the heart and soul of Apple. He shepherded the company from the throes of bankruptcy to the technology behemoth that it is today. His story would have to be fascinating, one that focuses on a personality so dynamic that he can drive a company to success seemingly on sheer will.

That is why I was confused when I saw that Ashton Kutcher would be playing the man in the new biopic "Jobs." Why would you cast someone of such low acting caliber to play a man whom one would presume to be dynamic? That's like trying to pass off a Zune for an iPod.

"Jobs" is exactly what you would think it is. It is the story of the history of Apple computers, and more specifically of Steve Jobs' role in the founding and nurturing of the company. It is something that should be engrossing, yet from conception to execution it just seems lacking.

After introducing Jobs (Kutcher) at the launch of the original iPod, the movie flashes back to his early years, a young, drifting college dropout searching for some direction in his life. After landing a job at Atari and then pawning off his project to Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), Jobs stumbles across an idea that Wozniak, or Woz, as he is known, is working on -- a rudimentary keyboard/monitor combination that is the forerunner to the modern home computer.

Jobs realizes the potential, so he partners up with Woz and the two launch Apple Computers. After seeing it through a successful birth, Jobs is ousted from the company by the board of directors because his pet project is hemorrhaging money and he seems unable to rein in either the project or himself.

Jobs then starts another software company, but as Apple begins to flounder under its new management, Jobs is brought back into the fold, allowing him to guide the company into its new era of prosperity.

There is a basis for an interesting movie here. The problem lies in the execution.

The story essentially adapts an uninspired, movie-of-the-week style of storytelling, going from point A to point B and so forth, methodically highlighting the things that the director and screenwriter feel are important. It is almost as though they were working off of a checklist, marking off each item as it they went through.

They briefly touch on Jobs' interest in Buddhism, his aversion to hygiene and shoes, his ruthless aggression, his womanizing, his cold-hearted nature, his backstabbing ... each is given a scene or two, then checked off, allowing the movie to methodically move on to the next character trait or important event. This paint by numbers style of storytelling adds an extra blandness to what should have been far more compelling.

The movie wants so badly to be "The Social Network", but all involved are so unprepared that it remains just a shadow of a much better film.

Equally troublesome is Kutcher's portrayal of Jobs. Kutcher is, and I think I'm safe in saying this, a terrible actor. He has managed to ride a disturbing lack of talent to a very lucrative career, much to the befuddlement of struggling actors and producers everywhere. But, to his credit, he looks as though he at least put some effort into this role.

Kutcher has the mannerisms, the body language, even the speech pattern down for Jobs, or at least as best I can tell from the video I've seen of the man. But, as accurate as portrayal may be, it lacks any real soul. It seems simply beyond Kutcher's abilities to infuse the character with anything resembling heart. Impression doesn't equate realism, something that seems to escape the actor.

So why was he cast? I have a theory.

The movie portrays Jobs as, essentially, a horrible human being who rode the backs of others to great success and wealth. I don't know the man's story that well; I'm told by those who had interaction with him or have heard of such that it is pretty accurate.

But for a movie that I think is trying to humanize the man, it creates instead a sort of inhuman monster. Jobs cheats his partners, cheats on his girlfriend, abandons his friends and backstabs those who helped to carry him to the top. He kicks his girlfriend out when she becomes pregnant, then refuses to acknowledge paternity or have anything to do with his daughter.

When he is rightly removed from day-to-day operations at Apple, he bides his time, then comes back to screw over the very man who gave him a second chance. He doesn't seem to be the actual innovator behind any of the products that he is known for.

He is, in a word, irredeemable. Thus, to play such a horrible man, you need a horrible actor.

There is a bright spot in the film, though. Gad nails the role of Woz, adding humor and energy to an often listless film. It is a bad sign when the most compelling character in a movie is not the one the film is based on, but as I was watching "Jobs," I was thinking how much more interested I would have been to see "Woz."

I realize that "Jobs" was rushed to beat a competing film to theaters, but so little care was taken with the development and telling of the story that it would have been better had the movie never even been made. For a man recognized for his innovations, the movie about him is listless, bland and the furthest thing from the man himself.

Just like with the company's signature products, we will have to wait for the next version to see the improvements.