I know what you’re thinking. A movie starring Tom Hanks as a man with a dog? Fool you once, yadda yadda yadda, but you will not watch another movie that ends with Hanks crying over spilled dog. I get it, and you’ll get no confirmation here regarding the ending of Finch and whether or not the canine bites it, but I can guarantee you this isn’t the Turner & Hooch (1989) sequel you’re fearing. It’s instead something surprisingly even less inspired.
A decade after a solar flare left Earth’s inhabitants, human and otherwise, dead or dying beneath the scalding UV rays, one survivor clings to life by scavenging supplies and building a robot. Finch Weinberg (Hanks) is an engineer, and while the cataclysmic weather is slowly killing him he’s powering through the pain to complete the project. The only thing Finch loves is his dog, Goodyear, and he knows the pooch doesn’t stand a chance once the radiation sickness coursing through his body finally kills him. His solution is to built an advanced robot, a creation that can learn not just the laws of robotics — can’t harm or let harm come to humans, can’t harm or let harm come to Goodyear — but also learn to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
With a deadly storm approaching St. Louis, Finch, Goodyear, a simplistic four-wheeled robot named Dewey, and Jeff — the new humanoid robot chooses his own name after Finch vetoes Chappie — board a heavily modified motorhome and head west to San Francisco. If you’ve seen any movies at all, you know exactly where this is all going. (And I don’t just mean California.)
Finch is a sci-fi/drama designed to tug at heart strings, but while viewer mileage will vary many will find their eyes as dry as the sun-baked landscapes that Finch and friends are driving through. Part of that comes from predictability, to be sure, but the film also suffers from a lack of real interaction and humanity. Granted, that isolation is a big part of its intent, but as great as Hanks is his efforts to emote against a dog, a remote control cart, and a CG-draped mo-cap artist can’t quite muster much of an emotional response.
Director Miguel Sapochnik and writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell craft a far too recognizable world here with abandoned city streets, menacing CG clouds, and foreseeable obstacles. All post-apocalyptic films face the same challenges, but the ones that stand out from the thirsty, irradiated pack find an angle, voice, or some other aspect that earns them attention and staying power. A Boy and His Dog (1975) is a cult classic thanks to its script, casting, and ending. The Road Warrior (1981, aka An Australian Boy and His Dog) thrills with stunts and spectacle. Finch wants you to bond with a childish robot voiced by Caleb Landry Jones while a sad Tom Hanks says goodbye to his dog. There’s just nothing else to it.
The film does try to up the tempo on occasion — quick, a storm is chasing us! quick, a car is chasing us! — but the characters and story both sit at a standstill. From around the thirty minute mark where you picture how you think the film will end, to over an hour later when Finch ends precisely as you imagined, it’s never anything more than a nice little movie you’ll probably never watch again.
Of course, the highlight of most Tom Hanks movies is Tom Hanks, and that trend continues here. While he can’t recapture the magic of his performance in Castaway (2000), albeit not for lack of trying, he’s the real deal as an actor. You feel his desperation as clearly as you do his small joys. Playing fetch with Goodyear is sweet and sad in its implications, the anger he feels at himself after making a costly mistake is palpable and tense, and you can’t help but appreciate the drive behind his actions. There are few things as noble as a human acting in the best interest of a species beyond himself/herself, but hanging the entire film on something so simple and onenote sees all that empty space take on a great weight that even Hanks struggles to carry.
Finch hits some unavoidably emotional beats by its very design, but its results still pale beside the likes of Hanks’ own Turner & Hooch. Hell, even K-9 (1989) finds a better, more engaged balance between character, story, and canine pandering, and that one stars Jim Belushi! (I kid Mr. Belushi, and I must insist you go watch 1987’s Real Men immediately to see him shine comedically.) As a streaming diversion Finch is a bit too long, a bit more meandering, and not all that memorable, but fans of Hanks’ immense talents won’t leave empty-handed. Is that enough reason to jump in an RV with this motley crew? Only you can answer that for yourself.