‘Finch’: Schmaltzy Tom Hanks tearjerker teams him with a robot, a dog and ... nobody else?
The droid’s annoying and the emotions cloying in post-apocalyptic Apple TV+ movie.
My guess is the talented team behind the post-apocalyptic Apple TV+ sci-fi drama “Finch” would be dismayed to hear a critic call it “Castaway” meets “WALL-E,” but my response would be: With all respect, if you don’t want your Tom Hanks vehicle to be compared to “Castaway” meets “WALL-E,” don’t make a movie with obvious parallels to “Castaway” and “WALL-E.”
Apple Original Films presents a film directed by Miguel Sapochnik and written by Craig Luck. Rated PG-13 (for brief violent images). Running time: 115 minutes. Available Friday on Apple TV+.
For an actor who is among the best in the world at sharing screen time with others, Hanks seems to have something of a predilection for playing characters who are separated from most or all of their usual human herd for great stretches of time in various movies, whether it’s the aforementioned “Castaway,” “Apollo 13” or “Terminal.” In the stark and bleak and sometimes visually stunning but only occasionally moving “Finch,” Hanks is the eponymous character, a crusty old robotics engineer who seems to be the last human on the planet after a solar flare has nearly destroyed the planet — killing the crops, polluting the air and creating the usual humankind-is-its-own-worst-enemy scenario in which those who somehow survived the initial catastrophe turned on one another until virtually no one was left standing.
Except Finch. And his faithful made-for-the-movies dog named Goodyear, and you better believe Goodyear gets a back story explaining his name, a back story meant to get you all choked up and whispering, “Aw, Goodyear!” (OK fine: That part worked.)
Oh, and what with Finch being an inventor and all, he builds a human-sized robot he eventually names Jeff, and Jeff becomes increasingly anthropomorphic with each passing day. As voiced by Caleb Landry Jones in an overly cutesy and mannered performance, Jeff is a sentient being that can rattle off facts faster than a Google search, is endlessly curious about the human condition and hangs his head like a scolded child when he does something wrong. He’s a very good robot but he’s a fairly annoying character, prone to saccharine behavior such as insisting Finch begin every story by saying, “Once upon a time …” Let’s just say Finch isn’t the only one who gets exasperated with Jeff’s irritatingly upbeat and childlike ways.
With Don McLean’s “American Pie” serving as the bookend theme song kicking off and concluding the story, “Finch” is an unapologetically sentimental one-man show, with Finch scavenging about for food and supplies every day before returning to his underground bunker at Tae Technologies, the company he worked for before the bleep hit the fan. It’s important to Finch that Jeff get up to speed about how to care for Goodyear, because Finch has one of those Movie Coughs that produce blood, and we all know THAT’S never a good sign.
With mortality staring him down, Finch decides to go on a road trip to San Francisco and specifically the Golden Gate Bridge for reasons of … well, let’s just say this story never misses an opportunity to bake in more sentimentality. Hanks is as great as you’d expect him to be as he interacts with a dog and a robot; after all, he once turned a volleyball named Wilson into a credible co-star. “Finch” ends exactly as we expect it to end — but what should be an emotional and profound conclusion feels manufactured. You don’t have to be a super-smart robot named Jeff to know when you’re being manipulated.