What Ashton got right in ‘Jobs’

August 8, 2013, 3:44 PM UTC

FORTUNE — I got a little freaked out.

While overall the new movie
rates a definitive ‘MEH’ from me, and an even harsher, “soooo bad,” from Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, I thought Ashton Kutcher in the lead role was pretty damn good. Even to the point where it brought back memories of my various meetings and conversations with Steve, which were sometimes great, sometimes horrible — but never boring. And it reminded me of how amped I would get — angry or enthralled — after talking to him. Not only did Ashton get the many looks of Steve — brown beard, no beard, gray beard, etc — but also the mercurial and often maniacal mannerisms.

I know, I know there are going to be all kinds of people who say, “I knew Steve really well, and he was NOTHING like that.” To that I say, a) hey, it’s a movie and b) imagine someone doing it orders of magnitude better. Of course Steve himself would probably hate Ashton’s performance. And true, Ashton wasn’t insanely great. But he was as good as a Samsung running Android, which is, as I said, pretty damn good.

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The movie focuses on the years between Jobs’ student days at Reed College (which includes a wasted cameo of James Woods as a professor) and tracks the birth of Apple (AAPL), and then Steve’s banishment and return. The dramatic narrative therefore is watching this often abrasive genius figure out how to build an iconic tech company, only to have it snatched away from him by the evil VC Arthur Rock, played by J. K Simmons, (Farmers Insurance anyone?) Dermot Mulroney is Mike Markkula, who doesn’t stand by Steve at a crucial moment, while Matthew Modine does an amusing turn as former Pepsi (PEP) exec John Sculley, who becomes Apple’s CEO.

Yes there are some stars in the pic, but overall the film has a low/medium-budget feel to it, (reported to be some $8.5 million) which is not necessarily a bad thing. And I think the filmmakers did an adequate job with what they had (period cars and scenes etc.). Attention to detail was pretty good. Steve’s hacienda in Woodside was sparsely furnished. The actress who plays Laurene Powell has beautiful long blond hair. And Ashton told us at the premier that, “ … we shot in the actual garage where Steve and Woz created the first Apple.” Cool!

Serwer and Kutcher at Fortune Brainstorm Tech. Photo: David Alan Davis

It was more the storytelling, continuity, and dialogue that fell flat. At one point when Steve is firing Markkula (and who knows if it really happened that way) Steve and board member Ed Woolard tell him to “Go ahead. Take the golden parachute.” Um sorry guys, no one would say that. (Only reporters would characterize a buyout thusly. Inside a company you would say, “ … take this generous a package.”) Also the movie dragged a bit, and then just as you get to the good part — Jobs triumphant return — it’s over!

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Bottom line: If you are an Apple freak and/or have followed Steve and Apple’s story like I have, you’ll want to see this — particularly to see Ashton. Beyond that, I’m not sure how much mass appeal this movie will have, particularly when you hold it up against something like
The Social Network
, where a much higher level of writing and filmmaking was brought to bear. And speaking of Aaron Sorkin, (who did the screenplay for the Zuckerberg pic), this Jobs movie sets two bars for the yet to come Sony Pictures (SNE) film on Jobs based on Walter Isaacson’s blockbuster biography,
Steve Jobs
. (Sorkin will write and direct the Sony project.) The first bar is the film itself, which to my mind is fairly low. Meaning I think Sorkin and company easily make a better movie. The second bar I say is higher. Meaning the actor (as yet unannounced) to play Jobs in the Sony version will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to really be that much better than Ashton.

Noah Wiley are you listening?