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Smart Phonies

Budgie Films Inc.

BlackBerry (2023)

Countless American movies about capitalism make it look fun and sexy, and worth all the hard work. But “BlackBerry” is Canadian, about the lacunae of capitalism, which despite being good enough for the Berlinale unfortunately includes too many of its own. It’s the based-on-a-true story depiction of the rise and fall of Research in Motion, the Canadian company which basically invented the mobile phone. The company’s fall is not a spoiler; this review is not being written on a BlackBerry and you aren’t reading it on one either. It’s an investigation into how personalities can combine to build incredible success; and how that same combination can lead to downfall. Unfortunately it never quite reaches what it is capable of.

Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel, in a quietly determined performance that is upstaged by a series of truly awful wigs) and Doug Fregin (Matt Johnson, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Miller) are the heads of a childish rough-and-ready start-up that has developed a phone capable of sending and receiving emails. The trouble is they are godawful businessmen, meaning the only people who understand what they're doing are competitors out for sabotage. Until they meet Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton). He gets it instantly, but they aren’t worth his time until he has a career setback. Then he meets them again (in a diner, where Doug counts out change for the check from a Ninja Turtles wallet) and offers his services to Research in Motion in exchange for a choice share of the business and the rank of cochief executive. Doug is aghast but Mike, who is clearly most comfortable as an engineer, realizes they need each other. The payroll checks have bounced; and Jim unhesitatingly offers up his home mortgage as collateral. But their success brings the sharks out; their symbiosis has its limits; and none of them are smart or focused enough to figure that out in time.

If these people have homes or families we never see them. Jim has a loyal assistant, who is one of two women with basic speaking parts in the film. All the other team members, with the exception of Rich Sommer as an engineer poached from Google and Michael Ironside as a terrifying chief operating officer, otherwise blend into the four-eyed background. For all this movie's pride in being Canadian its true home is cutthroat capitalism. Various contacts in suits, including Saul Rubinek and Cary Elwes, yelling at each other in various depersonalized corporate settings, have personalities the Research in Motion crew are denied. Hell, even Mike is denied it, except for the wigs.

Mr. Howerton is an all-time great at losing his temper which is put to full use; as a calling card for more movie work, this is easily as good as what Charlie Day did for “Pacific Rim,” and his performance is the main takeaway. This is peculiar, because Mr. Johnson is analyzing how intelligence manifests and how technology shapes the way people communicate instead of vice versa. This is a fascinating topic that literally everyone in the world holds in the palm of their hand, but somehow the movie can’t rouse the full spectrum of human emotions a movie about communication needs. It doesn’t even explain how the name BlackBerry was chosen! A huge part of this is the lack of women; while not every business-themed film can include Margot Robbie, the failure to look past stereotypical office atmospheres, whether the stuffy boardrooms in which Jim throws tantrums or the dudely slumber-party-style chaos Doug rules over, is a serious flaw. At least there’s no cultish black-turtleneck reverence here, but the boring failure to examine Doug, Mike and Jim’s entire lives and how that contributed to their professional abilities limits the movie’s impact. As do those wigs.


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