Casting Ashton Kutcher as Apple’s mercurial trailblazer, Steve Jobs, could have backfired big-time. It’s one thing being the highest-paid sitcom star on TV, another for Charlie Sheen’s replacement on Two and a Half Men to find the gravitas to play a computer-and-marketing visionary pursued by personal and professional demons. Kutcher nails the genius and narcissism. It’s a quietly dazzling performance.
As a movie, Jobs is a decidedly mixed bag. Director Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) and newbie screenwriter Matt Whiteley check off boxes in Jobs’ life like they’re connecting the dots. Oddly, the film doesn’t include Jobs’ 2011 death from pancreatic cancer at 56. The film kicks off in 2001 (Jobs intro’ing the iPod) and works back to his career start. It’s as if Kutcher were starring in the thinking man’s version of That ’70s Show.
Jobs, the barefoot hippie and Reed College dropout, sets up shop with his geek buds in the California garage of his adoptive parents. That’s where he and Steve “The Woz” Wozniak (Josh Gad) create Apple and start a revolution. Jobs loses the business. Then he wins it back. It plays like a Jobs Wiki page, including young Steve kicking his girlfriend Chrisann (Ahna O’Reilly) to the curb and initially disowning their daughter.
The kick comes in watching the man at work, where his blunt style wins few friends but real respect. Kutcher, rising to the occasion, makes every moment count. The skilled Gad looks eager to take him on, but the Woz is a painfully underwritten role. Jobs is a one-man show that needed to go for broke and doesn’t. My guess is that Jobs would give it a swat.