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Critics dump on "Jobs," the biopic of Apple's founder

John Cox | Aug. 16, 2013
Just 31% of the website's approved critics, who had advanced screenings, gave the movie a favorable review, and even those seem to end up damning it with faint praise.

If the new biopic of Steve Jobs, called "Jobs," was an Apple product, it would endup on lots of blogposts with headlines like "Apple's Biggest Failures" or "Apple's Worst Products," judging from the first round of reviews compiled by the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie officially opens Friday, August 16. As of Thursday afternoon August 15, just 31% of the website's approved critics, who had advanced screenings, gave the movie a favorable review, and even those seem to end up damning it with faint praise. Members at Internet Movie Database were somewhat more generous: "Jobs" scored a 5.6 out of 10 (the highest) rating from just over 2,900 IMDB users.

Overall a common thread running through the unfavorable is the movie's inability togive more insight about what made the late Apple founder actually tick, relying instead on an already widely known cultural narrative about the man, and his company.

A second film about Jobs in the works: written by Aaron Sorkin, based on Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography of Jobs. 

Ashton Kutcher stars as Steve Jobs. The movie is directed by Joshua Michael Stern, whose previous directing gig (his second) was 2008's "Swing Vote," starring KevinCostner. The script is the first by Matt Whiteley. According to critic Kirk Honeycutt,Whitely was working as the corporate communications director for Dallas entrepreneur Mark Hulme, who decided to create a film company and had Whitely write the script based on public records and his own interviews.

Kutcher "sounds, looks and even walks exactly like his man," says Honeycutt. "It's anuncanny and fine performance...." (Honeycutt says he actually met Jobs years ago when the Apple founder sat down with the publisher and some reporters at "Hollywood Reporter," where Honeycutt then worked.) 

But the assessment by Michael Phillips, at The Chicago Tribune, is more typical. "...Kutcher is everything except interesting," he complains. "And the script by Matt Whiteley,done no favors by Joshua Michael Stern's plodding direction, offers sketchy insight into the man whose accomplishments are treated by "Jobs" as somewhere north of the  invention of the wheel and somewhere south, barely, of the birth of human consciousness." 

Kerry Lengel, at The Arizona Republic, also thinks Kutcher's performance is "uncanny." Until the actor actually talks. "Yet the deeper problem with the film is that it doesn't really add anything to the established narrative on its subject," Lengel says. That narrative is the fruit of documentaries such as "Triumph of the Nerds" and "Pirates of Silicon Valley." Obituaries and tributes after Jobs' death in 2011 detailed "his monomaniacal freakouts."

"Stern and screenwriter Matt Whiteley go out of their way to underline the latter aspect of Jobs' personality, showing him cheating his friends, publicly berating his employees and disowning his daughter before she's even born," Lengel writes. "But in trying to render his life story in all its complexity, the film fails to find a particular point of view. In short, it's no Social Network' [the award-winning film by David Fincher on the founding of Facebook]."


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