Leave it to America’s Dad to make the end of the world more palatable. Tom Hanks’ latest sci-fi vehicle Finch finds the star in the titular role as a robotics engineer who is one of the last remaining people on Earth after a solar flare decimated the ozone layer. He spends his days scavenging for resources and staving off loneliness with the help of his dog Goodyear and diminutive robot assistant Dewey. Finch knows he won’t be around forever, with the threat of dangerous UV radiation and extreme weather events looming large every day, so he works at night to create a more advanced humanoid automaton to care for Goodyear. After years of trial and error, the robot, who Finch decides to call Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones), becomes operational and joins the team for a trek to San Francisco.

Compared to survival sci-fi stories like The Martian and I Am Legend, the scale of Finch is reduced drastically but the stakes remain high due to Hanks’ initial affability and also due to the rest of his crew’s vulnerability. Dewey, resembling Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, roams around on his four wheels but is defenseless against any traps that survivors may have set in abandoned buildings. Goodyear, portrayed by real-life good boy Seamus in an all-timer of a pet performance, is well-behaved and intuitive but can still end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The nascent Jeff is deceptively strong and possesses lightning-fast encyclopedic knowledge but lacks the rapport and shorthand that Finch’s other two companions have with him.

Besides the impressive feat of carrying a movie as the only on-screen human performer a la Cast Away, another aspect of Hanks’ performance that I admired was his willingness to show a more stern side of his ailing protagonist. After Jeff is “born”, director Miguel Sapochnik treats us to a zippy montage of Finch teaching him traits like how to walk and how to carry bags but the lessons aren’t always fun and games. Even moving the RV back a few feet so that Finch can avoid the 140 degree sun rays is critical and when Jeff fails to complete relatively simple tasks like that, Finch lets him know about it. Like any father, Finch is hard on Jeff because he wants him to be able to make it on his own and when Finch’s coughing fits become more frequent, we’re to understand how little time he may have left.

Jones, who was motion-captured on-set with Hanks but replaced immaculately with CGI, gives a terrific vocal performance that starts out sterile and mechanized but grows more cherubic and soulful as his relationship with Finch thaws. His body language goes through changes too, his militaristic rigidity and inelastic gait slowly melting into a more slumped body posture like Teenage Groot from Avengers: Infinity War. My favorite detail in Jones’ physical performance is his idle hand movements, fidgeting while trying to fill uncomfortable silence with Finch and fumbling when trying to build up his fine motor skills between pit stops. The replacement of Jones, who had to wear two-foot-tall stilts to make his interplay with Hanks more organic, with the computer-generated Jeff, is nothing short of state-of-the-art.

I don’t talk about movie dogs very often, as they’re typically not integral to the plot of a film and if present in a horror movie, they’re almost always the first to go. Last year’s The Call of the Wild made the choice to completely computer generate Buck instead of casting a real-life canine, which worked better than one might expect but still felt a bit uncanny. Given the amount of time Goodyear/Seamus interacts with an imposing human in a robot costume, he does an impressive job maintaining the illusion that Jeff is an actual robot. It’s part of a trio of unconventional performances that helps Finch overcome its conventional narrative to deliver a heartwarming post-apocalyptic tale.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing in theaters and streaming on Paramount+ is Clifford the Big Red Dog, an adventure comedy starring David Alan Grier and Jack Whitehall about a young girl’s love for a tiny puppy that makes the dog grow to an enormous size.
Premiering on Netflix is Passing, a black-and-white drama starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga about a pair of mixed-race childhood friends who reunite in adulthood and become increasingly involved with one another’s lives.
For their grand re-opening on Friday November 12th, Cinema Center is screening Archenemy, a superhero film starring Joe Manganiello and Skylan Brooks about a teenager who meets a mysterious man claiming he lost his superpowers after arriving from another dimension.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup