** out of ****
(for brief violent images, some language, and partial nudity)
Released: November 5, 2021 exclusively streaming on AppleTV+
Runtime: 115 minutes
Directed by:Miguel Sapochnik
Starring: Tom Hanks, Caleb Landry Jones, Shamus (the dog)
Finch is sci-fi for the AARP set.
A soppy dystopian drama without an existential bone in its body, Finch doles out universal platitudes about what it means to be human, using an end-of-the-world backdrop to make us feel good about our collective selves. After all, if any of us were the last person on Earth, we’d like to imagine we’d live up to being Tom Hanks through it all, wouldn’t we?
Fronted by the two-time Oscar winner in the titular role, Finch is a post-apocalyptic three-hander between a dying man, his dog, and the robot he builds to take care of his pet after he’s gone. Traveling with that trio on their RV trek to San Francisco, Finch is a fairly pedestrian odyssey. While it may resonate for the older audiences it panders to (from the Hanks central casting to the script’s homiletic sentiments), this ostensibly dangerous journey mostly plays it safe — and the end result is stale.
But the robot, while also corny, is a notably impressive feat of seamless photo-real digital animation.
The human race has been wiped out due to (you guessed it) climate change. With the ozone layer gone, the world is now a desert hellscape, and the atmosphere’s ionized radiation has made Earth uninhabitable. Hanks stars as Finch Weinberg, a lone survivor who spends his days scavenging vacant grocery stores for food and supplies as he outraces deadly, cyclonic sandstorms that can whip up at a moments notice.
Finch may have lasted longer than most but, as these cataclysmic events have taken their toll on his body, his days are numbered. His soul, however, is resilient, spurring him to employ his engineering skills to create a robot caretaker for his dog Goodyear.
As a character, this android is hackneyed and cliched. Self-named Jeff (and mo-cap performed by actor Caleb Landry Jones), he starts as a comical cross between Short Circuit and Borat. Then, as Jeff matures, he evolves out of that robot shtick but, unfortunately, it’s into a more cloying humanity. His unassuming innocence plays either for comedy or tender companionship, but it’s all pretty trite.
The visualization of the robot, however, is not.
On the contrary, the physical integration of this computer-animated android is legitimately convincing, so much so that it makes you question if it’s actually real, animatronic puppetry. Not only are the movements and textures lifelike, but the key to its veracity is how Jeff blends so perfectly into the lighting scheme of each shot.
Generally, the illusion of comped animation into filmed reality can break down because of subtle differences in lighting, color-grade and lens focus that can be gleaned or, for the technically unsophisticated, at least intuitively sensed. But here, even for the trained eye looking for the digital stitching, it’s flawless.
For his part, Hanks is certainly noble in all the ways that audiences have long admired, but the scruffier, burdened, and exasperated traits feel more strained in Finch than they do in better Hanks roles with similar demands (namely Cast Away and, especially, Captain Phillips). Director Miguel Sapochnik, a Peak TV vet for series like Game of Thrones and True Detective, is up to the material’s technical challenges, but the dramaturgy lacks nuance.
More banal than visionary, the situational stakes are contrived, not truly tense, and the emotional connections are vapid rather than meaningful. Finch simply recycles familiar beats from better stories and iconic characters (like Hanks’s Cast Away and Star Trek: TNG’s android Data) without exploring them in fresh, compelling, or provocative ways.
Finch isn’t bad, per se, it’s just a bore.