With few exceptions, nice guys don’t change the world. Especially in the digital universe. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, according to “The Social Network,” appears to be quite a handful. And Apple founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011 of pancreatic cancer, was such a piece of work that he requires two biopics to do him justice. This one, directed by Joshua Michael Stern (“Swing Vote”), suggests that Jobs will fare better with the upcoming version from Aaron Sorkin, Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Network.” If one were to compare this film to one of Jobs’s own products, it would be more like the Cube than the iPod.
Nonetheless, “Jobs” does offer some redeeming features — Ashton Kutcher in the title role, for one. In preparing for it, Kutcher practiced Jobs’s austere “fruitarian” diet and ended up in the hospital with a wonky pancreas for his troubles. He also adopts Jobs’s lopey, vaguely Cro-Magnon walk; the piercing stare; the explosive, abusive tirades. He nearly captures the soul of the man, except when he sounds like Keanu Reeves.
At first, it seems like the filmmakers are up to the task, too. Though a bit corny, an early montage set in 1974, in which the latter-day hippie Jobs trips on acid with friends in a cornfield, packages many of the themes of the man’s life in a few minutes. Gazing into the heavens, Jobs weeps about being an abandoned, adopted child; but then, like Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” he hears a voice calling out to him, “There’s no time to waste!” He spins in ecstasy, and the film doesn’t waste time either, as it intercuts images from the next few years of his life: his pilgrimage to India in which a guru tells him “Life is but a journey,” a calligraphy class where he learns the beauty of fonts, and then an IBM ad that lauds the future of man and computers, all set to a Bach Brandenburg concerto.
Yes, this is a man who will transform the world, even though he kicks out his girlfriend when she gets pregnant, and betrays many of his friends along the way.
Well, maybe the sequence seems inspired compared with what follows, a chronicle of high and low points in Jobs’s career put together like a PowerPoint demonstration. In 1976, the first Apple computer is born in Jobs’s garage; though designed by his geek pal Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), Jobs does the visionary work of selling it — in this case at a local computer store.
Next, Apple launches the groundbreaking Apple II, which, as Jobs intones, “puts the power and beauty of technology in everyone’s possession.” In 1984 he unveils the Macintosh, and the award-winning commercial that posits this machine as the only hope of avoiding Orwellian totalitarianism. Then his own company betrays him, only to beg him later to return, which he does, triumphantly, with another world-changing product, the iMac, and another world-convincing promotional campaign featuring the legendary “Think Different” commercial.
Meanwhile, Kutcher goes through a routine of staring into space as he gets another brainstorm, flying into a savage tirade at those too dumb to comprehend his vision, and giving yet another inspirational pep talk. They are not persuasive; the Apple commercials that Stern unwisely shows are more cinematic than the film.