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‘Jobs’ a system overload for Ashton Kutcher

‘JOBS’ ★★1⁄2

Steve Jobs Ashton Kutcher

Mike Markkula Dermot Mulroney

Steve Wozniak Josh Gad

Daniel Kottke Lukas Haas

Open Road Films presents a film directed by Joshua Michael Stern and written by Matt Whiteley. Running time: 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some drug content and brief strong language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: September 17, 2013 7:30AM

Like many a reviewer, I am typing my thoughts about “Jobs” on an Apple computer that quite likely would not exist without the visionary genius of Steve Jobs.

The keyboard on my Macbook Air is the springiest, liveliest, loveliest, most wonderful keyboard I’ve ever known, easily handling my rapid-fire pounding of 90 words a minute, and yes I’m boasting about how fast I can type and yes, my experience with keyboards extends all the way back to actual typewriters.

I could go on and on about my love-hate-but-mostly-love relationship with Apple products —but we are here to talk about the movie about the man who co-founded the company and became a mythic figure to millions before his untimely death in October of 2011.

This is the cinematic equivalent of the Power Mac G4 Cube: nice to look at and interesting in some ways, but ultimately underwhelming.

It’s a competently made, traditional biopic about a man who disdained those terms.

From the moment the amiable puppy dog Ashton Kutcher was cast in the title role, the odds were stacked against “Jobs” achieving anything like the edgy, innovative excellence of a film such as “The Social Network.”

It’s not that Kutcher gives a bad performance; in fact, he does an admirable job of capturing Jobs’ overall look and mannerisms, including that unique gait that made it seem as if Jobs had just jumped off a horse after a bumpy ride. In the scenes where Jobs sparkles in front of an audience or leads a team of innovators through the first exhilarating moments of exploration and implementation, Kutcher’s natural charm and charisma shine through.

It’s the heavy lifting that trips up Kutcher. On more than one occasion when Jobs is sad, a lone tear trickles from the corner of one eye. And when Jobs explodes at a colleague, turns his back on a longtime friend or fires an underling, Kutcher falls far short of capturing the man’s legendary bouts of rage and nearly soulless cruelty.

Director Joshua Michael Stern uses the music of Cat Stevens, Jobs hero Bob Dylan and REO Speedwagon, among others, in rather unsubtle fashion to bookmark significant chapters in the 20-year period between the founding of Apple and the introduction of the iPod. (More effective without calling too much attention to itself: the excellent production design, makeup and wardrobe.)

The 35-year-old Kutcher is believable as the college-age Jobs, a handsome, lanky, socially blunt underachiever who wanders barefoot around the campus of Reed College in Portland, Ore., and dreams of doing something HUGE. Along with fellow outcast-savant Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad), Jobs founds the Apple computer company, with “headquarters” in Steve’s parents’ garage.

(The part about the garage is true, but Steve Wozniak is already on record saying the film almost totally fictionalizes the early days of Apple. “Jobs” is of course a dramatized version of true events.)

After scoring a contract with a local retailer, Jobs and Woz realize they’re going to need some help, so they enlist the services of a handful of fellow techno geeks. But it’s only after Dermot Mulroney’s Mike Markkula shows up, checkbook in hand, that Apple becomes a real company.

At times “Jobs” plays like a two-hour advertorial for Apple, with each miraculous advance treated like the discovery of fire. (In some cases, of course, the advances WERE pretty darn miraculous.)

Not that this is a hagiography. Stern and screenwriter Matt Whiteley spend ample time outlining Jobs’ eccentricities (he gives off a pungent odor; at one point he’s called a “fruitatarian” because he’ll eat fruit and nothing but fruit) and his serious compassion deficiencies, whether he’s refusing to acknowledge his daughter for years, refusing to give stock options to some of the guys from the garage days or screaming at Bill Gates on the phone.

But soon we’re back to seeing Jobs framed in lovingly golden fashion as he mesmerizes young geeks and outlines his next world-changing vision. Even though Jobs was ousted from his own company and had major personal issues, this two-hour version of his life feels almost breezy and one-dimensional.

Josh Gad gives the film’s most complete performance as Woz, a corpulent nice-guy who starts off worshipping Steve’s cool factor but is disillusioned by the narcissism and lack of humanity. Reliable veterans such as Matthew Modine, J.K. Simmons, James Woods and Kevin Dunn do what they can with the lightly drawn characters they’re playing. (Other than brief glimpses of Steve’s mom and a couple of love interests, women are almost entirely missing from the picture.)

Ashton Kutcher’s a handsome, likable presence, more so on TV than in the movies. He can do a few specific things quite well. He’s also one of the least complex and mysterious actor/personalities of his generation, tasked with playing one of the most complicated and accomplished visionaries of our time, and he’s in over his head. Kutcher’s just not the right OS to make this movie hum.

Twitter: @richardroeper

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