As the passing parade rushes by there is a danger of forgetting events of the recent past. To his credit, Canadian actor and filmmaker Matt Johnson has dramatized the rise and fall of a hand-held device that was a game-changer in the world of communications, and precious to many people I know: the BlackBerry.

This is not just another cautionary tale of nerds made good and greed turned sour. It’s a particular tale of one geeky genius, Mike Laziridis (Jay Baruchel), his partner and pal Doug Fregin (played by director and co-writer Johnson), and a fiercely ambitious businessman Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) who steps into their frat-boy world and launches them into the Big Time, beginning in 1996, bending the rules as he goes along.

Adopting a scorched-earth policy is the last thing on the minds of the BlackBerry’s creators. Laziridis has an almost fetishy contempt for any products made in China and thinks that “good enough” is unacceptable. His sidekick and partner urges him not to go along with Balsillie, whose steamroller approach to negotiations pays off more than once.

As the take-charge business brain, Howerton delivers a searing performance that never strains credulity, in spite of his character’s often-outrageous behavior. Baruchel is very good, too, but the filmmakers’ attempt to age him in the final portion of the story is ineffectual. That’s where this can-do movie reveals its budgetary shortfall.

The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces; veterans like Saul Rubinek, Cary Elwes, and Michael Ironside and younger pros like Rich Sommer and Martin Donovan. They all contribute to the impact of this true-to-life tale. Johnson is still a relative newcomer as a writer and director but he is one of the movie’s MVPs onscreen. In real life he teaches alongside his screenwriting partner Matthew Miller at York University. They were fortunate in securing the rights to a book called Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry that provided them with a detailed blueprint. Truth remains stranger than fiction and BlackBerry makes the case all over again.

But, oddly enough, it does not answer a key question: where did the name for the device come from? Perhaps we’ll have to wait for a sequel to find out.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024