Ashton Kutcher’s ‘Jobs’ is a mediocre history lesson

In the contest between, who did the better job of being Jobs between Ashton Kutcher and Michael Fassbender, put your bet on Fassbender and the new Danny Boyle movie, “Steve Jobs.” Kutcher does a fair job of portraying Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in the 2013 bio pic “Jobs,” but the script is disjointed, working best if you know your Apple history.

“Jobs” begins with an Apple Town Hall in 2001 where a middle-aged, gray-haired Steve Jobs talks about “1,000 songs in your pocket” an introduces the iPod. The music here is clearly about reverence and inspiration.

We get a close up of this version of Steve Jobs, before we flash back to the younger version at Reed College in 1974. This Jobs is sleeping on a couch in what appears to be the student union. He’s in jeans and barefoot. Jobs is talking about the education of experience. Locals will note UCLA standing in for the Portland, Oregon college. The purpose of these scenes is to establish Jobs as a rags-to-riches story and an introduction to the main characters.

Jobs has dropped out of school due to the cost by this time, but with the approval of Dean Jack Dudman (James Woods), he’s allowed to audit courses.   One of those courses happens to be on calligraphy. This will re-surface later.

“Jobs” soon picks up a girl, sitting under a tree and after little more than hello, they are in her dorm bedroom, post-sex and falling into drugs. Because of his groovy drug experiences, and Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now,” Jobs and his friend Daniel Dottke (Lukas Haas) go to India. Jobs wonders what he’ll do when he returns as we wonder how he afforded the trip there. (Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert.”

Fast forward two years, Jobs is back in Los Altos, California, living at home with his parents and working at Atari were he is known for berating fellow employees and his bad body odor. He becomes friends with Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) and before you know it, Jobs gives an idea to Woz and Woz creates the solution and impresses the Atari boss but Jobs presents it as his own project. From there, Jobs and Woz create a company which they will call Apple and after a presentation at the Homebrew Computer Club garners interest by a local computer business man, Paul Terrell (Brad William Henke), they recruit Kottke, Bill Fernandez (Victor Rasuk) and Chris Espinosa (Eddie Hassell).  Their product is a motherboard.

Terrell is not impressed, but that disappointment inspires Jobs to make something better–a complete all-in-one computer with keyboard and monitor. To market the computer, Jobs is reduced to cold calling and no one he speaks with seems to understand his vision. Jobs does hire a biker dude Rod Holt (Ron Eldard whose portrayal of a dirt bike enthusiast garnered amusement from the real Holt and Kottke ). The biker dude part is all flash and no substance because this bit goes nowhere.

And while Jobs is complaining about some of the team’s lack of perspiration, up pulls a yellow Stingray with Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) and the Apple garage crew have a cozy conversation in the dining room surrounded by kitsch, they make a deal. Okay, mostly the guys stand around while Jobs does all the talking with Markkula.

You might not have known this, but Jobs had a girlfriend, since high school Her name is Chrisann Brennan (Ahna O’Reilly) and you might read something symbolic about her introduction. Jobs is at the kitchen sink, taking the skin off of a carrot. She tell him they are pregnant and he intimates that they have both had other relationships. He kicks her out of what is obviously a shared housing situation with Kottke as the third housemate. Jobs cries by himself while Kottke comforts Brennan. There is nothing here that suggests the inner toughness that will result in her taking Jobs to court for child support and you’ll be mystified as to their work relationship because none is suggested (Brennan worked for Apple).  Carrots will be introduced again much later and you might wonder, “Is this phallic symbolism?”

The crazy kids release the Apple II at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire and yet the you have no concept that Apple has grown up beyond the garage except that Jobs is no longer living at home with mom and dad and Jobs now wears a grey suit and tie.

Jobs might not be driving a Stingray, but he does have a cool light blue car to take him to his “handicapped” parking space at the Cupertino, Apple campus in 1980. The company has grown and he’s now sporting blue jeans and a long-sleeved button-collar shirt. He’s working on LISA and he wants them to risk like Picasso. “I would rather gamble on our vision than make a me-too product. We’ve got to make the small things unforgettable,” he tells his team. Now the calligraphy class comes into play. A team player says that a typeface “isn’t a pressing issue” and Jobs fires the guy on the spot, who just happens to be the best programmer on the team and at Apple.

Out of nowhere we have John Sculley (Matthew Modine) and problems between Jobs versus the Apple shareholders. Jobs is now in a lovely big house with a wife when he gets a crayon-written letter from Lisa who wants to visit him. Jobs have been dumped from the LISA and brought in for the Macintosh. The intro to the team is less than inspiring, but the interest here comes from him dumping the original team leader Jef Raskin but he reconnects with Espinosa (Eddie Hassell). Jobs wants simple, “It has to work like an appliance.” We know that Raskin doesn’t fit because he’s older, has a thick beard and has a comb-over ‘do, and he is wearing a dark grey suit and a dark tie. Then Jobs goes on a recruitment spree and you can hear the subtle tones of an anthem and we see Jobs walking in the sunshine with a lot of solar flare before we see the Mac and the anthem becomes more prominent.

Jobs goes about seducing John Sculley (Matthew Modine) into jumping the Pepsico ship and coming to Apple. We get an inspiring speech but we all know who this goes as we jump to the Mac introduction and a screening of the controversial Superbowl commercial. That’s before Jobs is dumped from the company in 1985.

The movie then jumps to 1996 where Jobs in married and has a son, but also has accepted his daughter Lisa (Annika Bertea) as his own and has custody of her, or at least she’s living with him. For those who haven’t memorized the history of Jobs or Apple, Jobs has a new company, NeXT.  He returns to Apple and eventually becomes the new CEO. The film ends with the “Think Different” campaign.

Probably the best part of this movie is J.K. Simmons (before his 2014 Golden Globe and Oscar-winning performance in “Whiplash”) as Arthur Rock. Kutcher as Jobs can do boyish and charming. He can do hippy, but he can’t really do angry street bully as Jobs was called by a former co-worker. Russell Carpenter’s cinematography attempts to capture the golden haze of the times and then brings us forward to more contemporary times with less grainy pictures, and that helps the abrupt time jumps. However, Matt Whitleley’s script is more about connecting the dots between the events without any real explanation and sometimes, without any explanation. You’ll get the most out of this if you know the history of Jobs and Apple, but you’ll also be confounded by the liberties taken. While Rod Holt got to be a cool biker dude, the much beloved Woz is flattened out into an almost expressionless wallflower nerd. That’s not the impression, one gets after seeing the Woz perform on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

“Jobs” is currently available on Amazon streaming.









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