Thursday, April 18, 2013

iSteve / *½ (NR)

Steve Jobs: Justin Long
Steve Wozniak: Jorge Garcia
Bill Gates: James Urbaniak
Melinda Gates: Michaela Watkins
Justin Long: Anthony Gioe

Funny or Die presents a film written and directed by Ryan Perez. Running time 79 min. Not rated. Contains language, depiction of drug use and brief sexuality.

This week the website Funny or Die released “the first Steve Jobs movie” online streaming free on their website and other streaming media outlets. “iSteve” is the first of three proposed movies about the pioneering computer engineer and programmer and co-founder of Apple Computers who passed away in October of 2011. It is also a joke, as is everything produced by Funny or Die.

The two other projects are more traditional dramatic bio pics of the iconic innovator. “jOBS” stars Ashton Kutcher and is looking for a release date, while another is being written by Aaron Sorkin who penned the Oscar winning screenplay about Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, “The Social Network”. Somehow it is this satirical look at the life of arguably one of the most influential people of our lifetime that got to see light of day first.

The feature-length movie stars Justin Long as Jobs. Ironically, Long rose to fame as an actor starring in an ad campaign for the newly designed and revolutionary iMac, which relaunched Jobs’ career as an innovator in the computer industry in 1998 after a long legal battle to regain control of his company. The campaign pitted the young, sharp-witted, laid-back, generation Y Long against a buttoned up businessman, played by actor John Hodgman, trying to seem hip and relevant to a new generation of computer consumers. Now, Long tackles the man who made him a star with reserved candor in a performance that spoofs the staged announcements for new Apple products that Jobs became well known for at the end of his career.

You can’t fault the movie for lacking material. It spans back to the beginning of Jobs’ career, when he was working out of his garage. It depicts his meeting with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, played here by Jorge Garcia of “Lost”, making fun of their nerdiness and mutual passion for sugary sodas. The film has a great deal of fun with the notion that Wozniak never got any credit for his contributions to Apple or the industry at large, with Garcia playing him as the ultimate nice guy who never speaks up in his own defense and meekly raises his hand in the background to try to be included in discussion and credit.

Long, on the other hand, portrays Jobs as a man oblivious to his own self-importance. He’s amiable and charming, utilizing the same charisma that helped him build hype for his products to pull in staff and underlings willing to praise any idea that comes out of his mouth. It’s interesting to see Long berate a version of himself during a scene in which Jobs is directing the very commercial that placed Long in the national spotlight. I think this is done tongue-in-cheek, with no real ill will intended against Jobs, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

The movie imagines a love triangle between Jobs, Bill Gates and Gates’ eventual wife Melinda, which breaks Jobs’ and Gates’ friendship apart. This goes right along with the film’s comedic tactic of satirizing typical bio-picture elements and injecting them into Jobs’ history in a melodramatic manner. Little truth can be found here about Jobs’ life. In fact, the movie even posts a disclaimer in the end credits exonerating itself as a factual account, pointing out how some of the events depicted are actually impossible.

It has fun with many of the rumors that surrounded Jobs’ story. Here Jobs gets much of his inspiration from an acid tab he obtained from a Himalayan monk with a picture of an apple on it. The rift between Jobs and his company is depicted as a sabotage job implemented by the CEO of Commodore. When Jobs returns to Apple the Commodore CEO fulfills a suicide pact with his saboteur, former PepsiCo president and Apple CEO from 1983 to 1993 John Sculley. In an actual funny moment, Jobs even literally breaks down during his stage presentation and a Chinese worker comes out and fixes the mother board located under Jobs’ trademark black turtle neck before Jobs springs back to life.

While I imagine it was fun conceiving of this movie, it execution isn’t as effective as it should be. Funny or Die does a good job putting out thousands of short 5 to 10 minute- long films each year that are something akin to the sketch comedy bits found on Saturday Night Live. It doesn’t do so well with feature-length projects. Last year, I named their first theatrical release “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” the Worst Picture of the Year. They approach “iSteve” with an earnest spirit that should serve satire of this nature quite well, but the tactics that work in a 7-minute sketch just don’t fly over an 80-minute running time. Bad wigs and obvious bald caps, cheap set decoration and a lack of photographic style all beg for a higher level of commitment to the material.

Most importantly, the screenplay by director Ryan Perez just isn’t very funny. There’s a fine line between playing the material straight for laughs and actually dulling the comedic material. This movie falls more on the dull side than the funny. Perhaps the filmmakers were cautious out of respect for their subject matter, but this material lacks bite. If you want to sustain a comedy audience for a feature-length project, the comedy must have teeth to it. There’s a reason they say comedy is harder to pull off than drama. Perhaps the slated dramas on Jobs will do a better job living up to his legacy.

Watch the trailer below. See the entire movie at

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