For a post-apocalyptic saga set in a barren future of extreme temperatures and atmospheric toxicity, “Finch” comes with a strangely cozy premise, one that sends the universally beloved star Tom Hanks on an adventurous cross-country road trip alongside an affable homemade robot and an especially cute pooch.
The ever-paternal Hanks plays the eponymous character of Miguel Sapochnik’s impressively scaled science-fiction epic. He is one of humankind’s few survivors of a catastrophic cosmic event that wiped the earth nearly clean of its most vital resources a decade ago. Despite the bleak backdrop, “Finch” manages to stay true to the fuzzy ring of its basic idea, delivering a family-friendly movie that is big-hearted, comfortingly traditional and bolstered by a genuine love of dogs.
In its finest moments, the film even mimics the spirit of our canine companions in some respects, leaning closely into simple yet virtuous notions like hope, trust and loyalty the way pooches inherently do, demanding a big-screen treatment with the assortment of emotions it summons — feelings as grand as the visual scope that “Game of Thrones” veteran Sapochnik puts on display. (“Finch” was originally slated for a theatrical release by Universal, but was bought for streaming by Apple after pandemic-related delays.)
We first meet Hanks’s former robotics engineer Finch Weinberg humming a tune in his ramshackle radiation suit, while he scavenges derelict shops and deserted homes for food and supplies next to his cooperative lunar rover, resembling a cuddly, live-action version of WALL-E more than the authoritatively gun-toting Will Smith of “I Am Legend.” His delight is hard to miss when Finch scores a precious can of dog food before he returns home — an underground lab that he carefully equipped with handy tools and high-end technology over the years — and greets his fluffy, floppy-eared rescue mutt Goodyear with pets and belly rubs on the other side of his Home Sweet Home mat.
Soon enough, writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell (the latter has producing roots in sci-fi milestones like “Blade Runner” and “Alien”) introduce us to Finch’s daily routine, consisting mostly of cutting open thousands of books, scanning them page by page and loading all the data onto the robot he’s been building, just to have a backup guardian for Goodyear after he’s gone. Once the droid finally comes alive and warns Finch of a fast-approaching deadly storm — he is, after all, programmed with protective laws similar to Isaac Asimov’s, but with a fourth item added that prioritizes Goodyear’s safety over everything else — Finch decides to hit the road in his well-equipped solar-powered RV and move his ragtag family from St. Louis to a potentially more habitable San Francisco.
But don’t mistake this for another “Cast Away”-style case of Hanks carrying a film alone. In time, Caleb Landry Jones’ unusual yet equally strong presence begins to reveal itself as Jeff, the film’s gradually evolving, orange-headed droid. Matched by a slowly maturing speaking voice, Jeff’s progression is among the movie’s numerous touching and humorous delights, as Finch tries to instill common human qualities, wisdom and decision-making skills into his robot as well as instigate a bond between him and Goodyear.
A Hooch to his Turner (only far more mellow), the movie’s furry star — played by an adorable rescue named Seamus — similarly delivers a memorable performance just being his true sweet self, establishing an organic sense of rapport with Hanks. In that regard, credit is due to the filmmakers for avoiding the pitfalls of countless dog-centric Hollywood movies that project human-like traits onto canines. Instead, they allow Goodyear to be an authentic pup that actually acts like one — lazing, playing fetch, keenly reacting to the fluctuating emotions and circumstances around him (have tissues handy for one off-camera instance toward the end) and providing calming camaraderie to his pack through it all. The screenwriters also deserve praise for teasing the idea of a dog’s autonomy here. In that sense, it feels fresh, perhaps even radical, to hear Finch reflect on this concept in one scene when he says, “He’s not my dog. He is his own dog,” confronting a house-pet culture that habitually defines the treasured bonds between animals and humans on narrow-minded ownership terms.
Elsewhere, Sapochnik supports the thematic charms of “Finch” with visual substance, conjuring up a deserted American West of varying landscapes, vistas and fading landmarks. In unison, these elements activate a sense of awe, and even environmental consciousness through Jo Willems’ expansive camerawork and Tom Meyer’s deceptively modest production design that takes the material’s innately dark concerns as seriously as its bright leanings. Save for a terrific scene where the clan gets threatened by the presence of another car, Sapochnik falls a little short on suspense. He also could have used a more leisurely first act. Even so, “Finch” offers the right kind of big-budget cinematic escape to viewers young and old, one that’s as endearingly uplifting and disarming as a devoted good boy’s unconditional company.