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‘Finch’ Review: Robot roadtrip turns trite despite being entertaining

Stick ‘Cast Away’, ‘The Martian’ and ‘Chappie’ in a blender and you’ve got ‘Finch.’

Finch
(Image: © Apple TV Plus)

Our Verdict

It’s doubtful that 'Finch' is going to blow anyone’s mind, but it's hard to begrudge the film its charms.

For

  • - Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones share some superb on-screen chemistry
  • - Any gag where the robot doesn't understand basic colloquialisms is an easy sell

Against

  • - The narrative misprioritizes which character arc should get the most focus
  • - Themes of social isolation and distrust are largely unresolved

Finch is the kind of Amblin crowd-pleaser that you don’t see terribly often anymore. With a soft sci-fi premise and a focus on feel-good humanity, the ambition is to create a film that feels just edgy enough for adults, safely palatable to kids with parents cool enough to handle a PG-13 rating and, overall, just reaffirming of the value of funny gags and well-rounded characters. 

As a two-hour distraction from the world around us, Finch largely succeeds as a likeable buddy road movie that trades on the charisma of America’s dad, Tom Hanks, with the bright eyed naiveté of a bumbling droid (Caleb Landry Jones). But as the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel a little bit cheated, as the film never really confronts some of the questions it raises and ends on a note of manipulation seemingly designed to make you forget how much of what you witnessed was unresolved filler.

Our titular Finch (Hanks) is an inventive loner living in the wastelands of an apocalypse, the result of a solar flare that burnt the ozone layer to Swiss cheese and left humanity exposed to the effects of ultraviolet radiation and intense weather patterns. His only companions are a rover and his trusty dog, Goodyear, but his daily efforts are directed toward the construction of an assistive, bipedal robot whom he eventually dubs Jeff. Just as Jeff gets a handle on walking and following directions, Finch notices an incoming storm is going to last so long that it will likely destroy his base of operations and any hope that he’ll have for further scavenging. So Finch and Jeff load up a solar-powered RV and make their way more than 1,000 miles to San Francisco.

The journey is primarily a vehicle for Jeff to fumble his way through his reason to live, most notably his prominent fourth directive to protect the dog at all costs. Goodyear’s distrust of Jeff is mainly a background element, though, as the robot spouts inane trivia, literalizes all of Finch’s commands and generally acts as if he was born yesterday because, well, he was. Jones’ motion-captured performance and synthesized vocal tics make for an entertaining ignoramus of a co-lead, and the reliance on slapstick and clueless wordplay make him an excellent complement to Hanks’ considerably grumpier comedic straight man.

But it’s the title character that leaves Finch somewhat lacking. Though that is certainly no fault of Hanks, the old pro that he is in making you empathize with him, no matter how grumpy his character may be. The problem is primarily with Craig Luck’s and Ivor Powell’s script, which spends a lot of time addressing Finch’s trust issues with other people — there are apparently other survivors of the apocalypse who never make an onscreen appearance — but it ultimately doesn’t interrogate those beliefs in service of a character arc. 

Which isn’t to say that Finch doesn’t develop over the course of the film’s two hours, but it’s development that reinforces Jeff’s accepted personhood, not Finch’s underlying character flaws, if the film even recognizes them as such. It ultimately leaves the film’s resolution feeling somewhat hollow, a decidedly more Jeff-centric beat that affirms this as his story but doesn’t adequately address why Finch’s insecurities dominate so much of the preceding film.

However, most of these criticisms come after the film is in the rearview mirror, and they probably make for more analysis than the casual viewer will ponder with what is ultimately an inoffensive time-waster of a film. It’s doubtful that Finch is going to blow anyone’s mind or that its heartstring-tugging moments will hold much of a candle to the vast pantheon of Tom Hanks’ career, but it’s hard to begrudge a film much where a robot ponderously points to the sky, literally searching for the metaphorical Swiss cheese in the ozone layer.

Finch premieres on Apple TV Plus on Nov. 5.