‘BlackBerry’ Review

Phoney bologna

Uh-oh, friends and cinephiles, it seems we have unwittingly wandered into the timeline wherein filmmakers pump out business-glory prattle like the one about the Nike shoe guys and the other one about the janitor guy who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (whom, the Los Angeles Times reports, did not actually invent said Cheetos). One could easily argue such films fan the flames of today’s sick brand worship. And though BlackBerry from writer/director Matt Johnson seemingly straddles the style, another take ultimately emerges: Progress ain’t pretty and people are jerks.

BlackBerry recounts the rise of Canada’s Research in Motion, the company founded by nerds who created the first-ever smartphones in the 1990s. Of course, by today’s standards, BlackBerrys would be woefully out of date, but there once was a time when an email and instant messaging machine that could also phone was the height of amazing in the business and private sectors. Most of our phone habits were born of BlackBerry and, according to the movie, RIM controlled nearly half of the entire cellphone market at one point. Johnson’s film looks at how the company got there, how its founders were ill-suited to compete in a rapidly evolving marketplace and how the iPhone singularly crushed practically all competitors shortly after its 2007 first-gen launch.

Here the inimitable and underrated Jay Baruchel (Man Seeking Woman—maybe the funniest show ever) tackles Mike Lazaridis, the soft spoken co-CEO and co-founder of RIM who totally gets the tech but not the people. His foil, as it were, is Jim Balsillie (Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton), a brash and success-obsessed capital-B businessman type who drops F-words while trampling anyone who doesn’t show him the respect he believes he deserves. Baruchel has an undeniable vulnerability throughout the film, even when the chips are way down. Howerton, however—who has proven he’s got chops on shows like AP Bio—takes the cartoonish route. Some of this comes down to the writing, but in contrast to the legendary Michael Ironside as a bullish exec meant to keep the phone nerds in line...well, let’s just say quiet, threatening rage feels scarier than nonstop shouting any day. If the goal was to prove how real-life Balsillie was all bite and no substance, then mission accomplished. Still, Howerton delivers an irksome and dimensionless performance.

There are enjoyable yet briefer turns from vets like Cary Elwes as the PalmPilot sonofabitch who thwarts Balsillie whenever possible, or Saul Rubinek (Frasier) as the Verizon guy who helped BlackBerry conquer the world. Johnson himself takes on a role as Lazaridis’ partner and friend, Doug Fregin, though his constant reminders that nerds enjoy Ninja Turtles and Spielberg movies and Doom feel less like sly nods and more like Balsillie’s nuclear tirades—awkward.

And so it goes up until the mid-aughts, when the SEC took a look at the company; and the disastrous BlackBerry Storm release. That phone was meant to be the iPhone killer, but did you have one? Did anyone? The film posits that something like 93% were returned or forgotten. And though there’s no question that RIM and BlackBerry changed how we live, do business and interact with our phones and tech—not to mention how data is packaged and sold—Johnson and company don’t quite broach the question we should really be asking: Was it actually for the better?


+Baruchel is excellent; music used to great effect

-Howerton is forgettable; reminds us phones are prisons


Directed by Johnson

With Baruchel, Howerton and Johnson

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