Though it looks like a fake movie they invented for a throwaway joke on 30 Rock, Finch — the new movie Apple TV+ movie in which Tom Hanks, a dog and a robot band together to survive the apocalypse –is very real.
The latest in a long string of post-apocalyptic flicks, it premieres Friday on Apple TV+. If by some miracle you’ve never seen a movie about the end of the world, why not start with this one? A lot of reasons, actually….
In the film, Finch Weinberg (played by Tom Hanks), has survived the apocalypse — but just barely. He’s dying of radiation poisoning because of the depletion of the ozone. And though he tries to stay a step ahead of the worst of the resulting extreme weather events and starvation, he’s more than aware his days are numbered.
That bothers him. But more than that, he worries about what will happen to his beloved pet dog after he dies. To that end, he’s been converting his vast library into PDFs, feeding them into a computer brain that will serve as the main hard drive of a robot he’s built. The robot, whom Finch nicknames Jeff, looks like a cross between Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and a sinister robot drawn by Japanese anime director Mahiro Maeda. However, Jeff is written like a Pixar character and voiced by Caleb Landry Jones.
Finch doesn’t have much of a plan. He chooses San Francisco more or less randomly as their destination from St. Louis, where he was holed up when civilization collapsed. He’s spent the last few years designing robots and missing his friends and family. And, though Jeff initially assumes he’s been designed as a companion for his inventor, Finch has turned off his own social graces.
Finch doesn’t want a friend — he just wants his dog looked after. Though, of course, if in the first act a curmudgeon professes to not want a robot pal, we can be sure they’ll be tearfully saying goodbye by the third.
The day the movies died
I cannot for the life of me imagine the circumstances that led to this movie’s creation. I mean, yes, I know that it was sold in 2017 (when it was called BIOS) to the tune of millions after a bidding war but … why? Did a studio really think Hanks doing another riff on Cast Away by way of The Road and Rain Man was going to be worth a million-dollar investment? With Miguel Sapochnik, maybe best known for directing the completely forgotten Repo Men and then a decade of TV, at the helm?
It’s mind-boggling. Now that I’ve seen this long-delayed movie, I’m even more buffaloed. It’s tonally all over the shop. It relies on a cutesy Pinocchio narrative involving a robot who wants to be best pals with his inventor. It’s far too cowed by a potentially prohibitive rating to be violent. And it has zero interest in the shape society has taken since the movie’s big event.
Put another way: You need to have seen a whole lot of movies to know what it’s up to. But if you’ve seen those movies, you don’t need to watch Finch. The only thing that doesn’t shock me is that producer Robert Zemeckis was involved.
A completely ordinary apocalypse
The film is doggedly ordinary. Finch’s soundtrack is full of radio hits that dully apply to every situation over which they play (“American Pie,” “Road to Nowhere”). Every stop the script takes is expected, from the robot’s awakening to the lessons Hanks has to learn and teach him.
It’s Chappie — but no one gets obliterated by machine gun fire and there isn’t a cult rap group in it. Landry Jones initially does a decent job approximating the automated speech of AI (actually, his voice sounds exactly like Matt Gourley doing Maggie the GPS on Superego) but he makes the questionable decision to sound more like himself as he becomes “more human.”
Yes, it’s what you’d expect, but it doesn’t make any sense. AI doesn’t reprogram itself because it spends more time with you. If it did, my screeners app would stop asking for my password because it knows I’m in the room with it. Not that I want that — that sounds dreadful. You’d think people would know that by now, considering that the richest people in the world make movies like this and have all the technology the rest of us don’t.
That which is not predictable
Nevertheless, Hanks is good here. For years, the actor could just show up and be himself. And that would be enough for any movie to make scads of money around the world. Lately, though, he’s been working overtime, perhaps because the movies call for a little more from him in order to survive, and maybe just because he wants to do more than glide by on his inhuman charisma.
His great performances (Catch Me If You Can, Captain Phillips) came under directors with dodgy track records who nevertheless never just ask for the ordinary. Hanks stepping just outside of his comfort zone can offer extremely good value. He’s developed a voice to go with his thin figure here (I know he’s supposed to look malnourished, but damn he looks great). And the overall impression is that he really committed to the role.
Again, I’m not exactly sure what about this one-note character spoke to Hanks. But he wasn’t going to let a little thing like convention stop him (when has he?). He keeps the whole movie together more than Sapochnik’s Ikea commercial lighting and tight-ish action movie mechanics.
A decade doing TV has disciplined Sapochnik, but to no particular end. He directs Finch like a very special episode of prestige TV. We see pretty images of a comic-relief robot and a dog against apocalyptic skies. That’s about it. There aren’t the deadly cannibals or scavengers you expect from a movie that seems to be placing itself directly in the lineage of movies like The Road or A Boy and his Dog. Because there really isn’t any shading here at all.
A man makes a robot, they go on a roadtrip, the roadtrip ends. That’s about it.
Tom Hanks on Apple TV+
Hanks’ films for Apple TV+ — his World War II film Greyhound became one of the streamer’s early successes — exhibit a kind of “showing on daytime television” featureless-ness. I just can’t imagine we will look back on them with much fondness in six months, let alone 10 years.
Tom Hanks has been making adult contemporary movies since the beginning of his career in the 1980s, but we still talk about the likes of Big and Apollo 13 (though admittedly less and less as time goes on). I think the formula needs tweaking. A lot’s changed since then, even if Hanks’ unspeakable charm hasn’t.
Watch Finch on Apple TV+
Finch premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 5.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.