Review: ‘Finch’ stars Tom Hanks, a robot and a dog — what more could you want?

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Finch'

If you still need a sign of where the film industry is headed, note that arguably its biggest star, Tom Hanks, has just made back to back movies for the streaming service Apple TV+.

Last year, he starred in the underrated submarine flick “Greyhound,” which is well worth watching if you missed it. This weekend, he returns for another Apple Original with the sci-fi buddy flick “Finch,” which offers Hanks, a robot and a dog — what more could you want?

Set on a post-apocalyptic earth, ailing engineer Finch Weinberg (Hanks) builds a walking, talking robot named Jeff, whose sole purpose is to protect his beloved dog, Goodyear. As they embark on a cross-country journey driving a tricked-out RV from St. Louis to San Francisco, the robot learns about life, love, friendship and what it means to be human.

Opening with shots of an emaciated Hanks, this might be the most worn-down we’ve seen him since the brilliant PTSD finale of “Captain Phillips” (2013). Alone with his dog like Will Smith in “I Am Legend” (2017), Hanks combines the doggie daddy duties of “Turner & Hooch” (1989) with personified pals like Wilson the volleyball in “Cast Away” (2000).

The CGI robot isn’t as adorable as “WALL-E” (2008) nor as annoying as “Chappie” (2015), but still an impressive feat of visual effects. Voiced by Caleb Landry Jones (“Get Out”), his speech pattern starts out robotic, then evolves to fluid English. It almost becomes too human, taking us out of the magic unlike the adorably choppy voices of E.T. or Johnny 5.

The robot isn’t the only tech for sci-fi fans. The souped-up RV boasts solar panels on the roof that allow Finch to maximize his fuel supply as he scavenges pantries of deserted grocery stores for scraps of food. Other than a brief flashback, we don’t see any other humans in the futuristic world. We’re told they exist, but Finch intentionally avoids them.

He does this by driving around only during the day when it’s too hot for other humans to navigate. Mankind has ravaged the ozone with global warming to be 140 degrees. Finch’s skin literally burns in the sun, so he must stay in the shade like a vampire, not so different from the many American recluses forced to stay indoors by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This gloomy atmosphere is the visual key for director Miguel Sapochnik, who won an Emmy for directing the “Battle of the Bastards” episode of “Game of Thrones” (2011). Sapochnik films on location in New Mexico to capture the arid terrain for a dusty, hazy, dangerous setting ripe with sandstorms, tornadoes and off-screen desert bandits.

The script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell is pretty bleak with moments of comic relief between very sad moments. The tone is a bit too dark for a lighthearted family flick, but also too sappy for a gritty drama, leaving it stuck somewhere between. Likewise, Don McLean’s “American Pie” feels at odds with Gustavo Santaolalla’s intense score.

We learn just enough backstory about Finch’s own parents and the solar flare that caused the global apocalypse, but mainstream viewers might crave more details. The same goes for the finale, which offers blossoming hope amid the tragedy, but the reason is never really explained with a lack of falling action that leaves us wanting more closure.

Sapochnik told The Hollywood Reporter that the ending was changed to offer more hope as the real-life pandemic raged on. Tapping into isolationist themes that audiences are dealing with every day in their own lives, it’s not as much escapism as it is catharsis.

In the end, “Finch” is a worthwhile experience of moviegoing, err, should we say movie-staying. You’ll be glad you watched it, even if you might not watch it again, but you just might hug your dog a little tighter and start talking to the coffee machine the next morning.

The dog is barking, but I’m still waiting for the Keurig to talk back.

3.5 stars

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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