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Ashton Kutcher's 'Jobs': What the critics are saying

August 16, 2013: 6:35 AM ET

Mixed positives for Kutcher's performance, thumbs down for Joshua Michael Stern's film.

Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Source: Rotten Tomatoes

FORTUNE -- Expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised. My wife, who would die happy if she never heard another word about Apple (AAPL), thought the two-hour-and-seven-minute movie was about an hour too long.

Ashton Kutcher's "Jobs," opens Friday. I can't wait for Aaron ["The Social Network"] Sorkin to finish his. Neither, apparently, can the critics. Excerpts from the first reviews:

Peter Keough, Boston Globe'Jobs' gets pulped in laborious film. The first of two biopics of the late founder of Apple (another written by Aaron Sorkin is in development) features a compelling performance by Ashton Kutcher in the title role but otherwise reduces the life to a series of inspirations, tirades, and motivational speeches set in corporate boardrooms. It seems like an extended Apple ad, with a few gossipy asides, but less entertaining.

Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post: 'Jobs': Career highlights get in the way of human insights. At the risk of damning with faint praise, it should be noted that Ashton Kutcher is not a disaster in "Jobs" ... Kutcher does a couple of things well, aping Jobs's guarded, tight-lipped smile and familiar, half-hunching, half-bouncing gait, even if at times they seem more like ill-fitting mannerisms than expressions of Jobs's driven personality. But there's a void inside the man that Kutcher never manages to fill. The problem is not with the actor but with the film itself.

Mark Olson, Los Angeles Times: 'Jobs' does not compute. "Jobs" feels curiously out of touch with its subject, both as a man and regarding his impact. There was a time when the slack storytelling, stock characterizations and general by-the-numbers feeling of the film could be put into perspective by saying it seemed like a TV biopic. But even TV movies are done with more verve than this these days.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: Jobs. 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.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: Portrait of the Artist Behind Apple. The greater blame rests on the filmmakers, who never find a way to navigate the "passions, perfectionism, demons, desires, artistry, devilry and obsession for control" that Walter Isaacson enumerated in "Steve Jobs," his 2011 authorized biography. Mr. Stern and Mr. Whiteley pile up Jobs's multitudes: he screams and smirks, the score rises triumphantly only to ease and darken. Other characters announce to Steve and one another that he's changed. But how and why? There are nods at his adoption and the daughter he initially refused to acknowledge, but those never amount to much and, after a while, you don't care. The Great Man theory of history that's recycled in this movie is inevitably unsatisfying, but never more so when the figure at the center remains as opaque as Jobs does here.

Mike LaSalle, San Francisco ChronicleKutcher's fine, but film's timing is off. For most of its running time, "Jobs" is a satisfying account of the career of Steve Jobs, who rose to become one of the great entrepreneurs and technological innovators of our era. In the last half hour, the movie slows down and starts to disappoint, and yet not so much that people with a particular interest in Jobs or the history of computers should avoid seeing it. At its best, it's a good picture, and at its worst, it's almost good.

Sam Grobart, Bloomberg Businessweek: Cue the Swelling Music: 'Jobs' Worships at the Altar of Steve Jobs. Had Jobs been slightly more clinical and detached, it might have been able to capture the right story to tell about Steve Jobs. This is a college dropout who created the first major PC company, introduced the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, upended the music industry, bought Pixar (DIS)—there are a lot of good stories to tell. They'd just need a smarter touch than what this movie can offer. [Aaron] Sorkin is already at work on a screenplay about Jobs. Unless you're a die-hard Apple fan, wait for that one.

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: Ashton Kutcher Almost Reveals the Man Beyond the Devices in Jobs. [Joshua Michael] Stern, who directed the 2008 Swing Vote, with Kevin Costner, can't keep the movie purring smoothly, and too often he picks up potentially interesting threads only to drop them: James Woods shows up early on as a professor who sees Jobs's spark of whatever-it-is, but he's really little more than the symbolic Teacher Who Cared. Also, a bubbly blond wife (Abby Brammell), so cheerful in her suburban errand-running hoodie, appears unexplained late in the movie. How did that happen? Suddenly, the Steve Jobs who so conveniently ignored the existence of his firstborn daughter (while also—go figure—naming a failed computer after her), has had some sort of epiphany about building meaningful human relationships. Stern elides all of that. The movie itself, ultimately worshipful, ends up being Jobs-like in the cold way it treats flesh-and-blood people.

Philip Michaels, Macworld: A one-of-a-kind innovator gets a by-the-numbers biopic. Several half-promising plot points bubble up to the surface in Jobs—the joy of creating something, the friendships ending in betrayals between Jobs and a rotating cast of characters, and ultimately a love story between a man and the company he helped build. But the script abandons these elements almost as soon as they appear, and the movie makers' focus returns to marking off spaces on the Steve Jobs biography bingo card. Jobs sitting enraptured during a class about fonts? Check. Jobs tricking Woz out of his share of a bonus for developing Atari's Breakout? Check. Jobs showing off the "1984" Macintosh commercial in its entirety? Check and mate. "This is like a video Wikipedia entry," my colleague Armando Rodriguez told me after we finished screening the movie. That's a harsh but not entirely inaccurate critique.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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