Ashton Kutcher earns praise in an otherwise mediocre biopic ‘jOBS’

Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak and Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs
Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak and Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs

The closing night film of the Sundance Film Festival usually ends up being something of an anti-climactic affair, ending what's arguably the most important and certainly the most popular American film fest on not so much a whimper as a collective sigh. It's something of a dubious honor to be chosen as the closing night film (previous receivers of this "honor" include the Bradley Cooper misfire "The Words" and Joel Schumacher's "Twelve"); it's as if the Sundance programmers know that pretty much everyone "important" has already left snowy Park City and returned to sunny L.A., so there's no need to bother with booking something, you know, really good.

That pattern seems to be holding this year, as the 2013 Sundance Film Festival comes to a close with "jOBS," the needlessly stylishly-titled biography film of the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple Inc. The film has inspired skepticism (and, from some places, downright scorn) since it was first announced, not so much for the fact that there was going to be a biopic of the man (it was inevitable, after all) but for who would be playing him: Ashton Kutcher, the performer known to most of the world as (the former) Mr. Demi Moore and the practical joker behind "Punk'd."

[Photos: 2013 Sundance Film Festival premieres]

So how did "jOBS" actually turn out? The general consensus seems to be that it's a reasonably entertaining but ultimately too simplistic a portrait of a very complex man to truly resonate, a movie that "can't get a handle on how to portray its subject," according to IndieWire. It's also perhaps a film undone by its own legend, as it "unfortunately relies too heavily on one's foreknowledge of the man's life and work, the expectation being that viewers will be able to fill in the story's necessary gaps and draw the appropriate life lessons from it," Variety states.

However, none of this seems to be Kutcher's fault. In fact, he's being praised as the best thing about the movie, delivering a committed and nuanced portrayal that often transcends the so-so material. Here's what critics are saying about what sounds like a career-best performance from an underrated actor who's managed to rise above a film's weaknesses before ("The Butterfly Effect," anyone? No one? Okay, anyway ...).

"Kutcher has an advantage in the role with his passing resemblance to Jobs, but he also faithfully re-creates some of his character's physical mannerisms for additional dimensionality. He manages a fair imitation of Jobs’ speaking style as well, particularly when delivering a number of monologues, usually while haranguing his employees or board of directors." -- The Hollywood Reporter

"Stylishly realized despite its unsophisticated storyline, "jOBS" has been shot by Russell Carpenter with brightly lit images that accentuate the eponymous innovator's constant motivation. That achievement is complemented by Kutcher's committed performance, certainly his most impressive turn in years, which conveys the character's focused, manipulative intentions in each calculated look." -- IndieWire

"Of course, the elephant in the room needs addressing: how is Kutcher as Jobs? Quite capable, actually. Kutcher's Jobs has the hunched, rolling gait of the man, and the kinetic nature of his hands. His flat, piercing stare and clipped delivery works almost perfectly throughout. Even if you've spent an enormous amount of time listening to or watching Jobs, you'll be impressed with his overall performance. ... it's a fantastic, if not wholly factually accurate, performance by Kutcher." -- The Next Web

"Kutcher ... throws himself into the role, inhabiting Jobs in his mannerisms and gestures while doing a more than creditable impression of the man's voice. Kutcher also captures Jobs' deliberate, slightly hunched-over walk. At moments, as during an enjoyable sequence in which Jobs recruits members for the Macintosh team, Kutcher disappears into the role." -- CNET

"[Kutcher] works hard not to rest on his basic physical similarities to Jobs, summoning the man's charisma and often harsh devotion to his work, delivering even the most audacious of monologues with the kind of gravitas you imagine Jobs had. Kutcher commits himself admirably to a near impossible part -- and it's a shame the rest of the film wasn't willing to work that hard." -- Cinema Blend

"Ashton Kutcher plays the title role and does a good job at making you forget there’s a big star under the beard and glasses." -- SlashFilm

[Photos: Sundance Film Festival portrait studio gallery]

"jOBS" will hit theaters on April 19 to mark Apple's 37th anniversary.

Watch Ashton Kutcher in a clip from 'jOBS':