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‘Finch’ Film Review: Tom Hanks Road-Trips the Apocalypse With a Robot Instead of a Volleyball

Hanks gives another moving, relatable performance in a saga that doesn’t have much new to say about doomsday

When the inevitable story of COVID-19-era cinema is published, the cover image will likely be either a solitary Tilda Swinton in “The Human Voice” or Tom Hanks with a robot and a dog in “Finch,” a film that allows the actor to be alone on set or to share the space only with actor Caleb Landry Jones (“Get Out”), who provides the voice and the motion-capture for the android.

But the bleak, dusty, uninhabited post-apocalyptic wasteland of “Finch,” one can only hope, is a relic of pre-pandemic moviemaking. After losing so much of 2020 and 2021 — from the lives of friends and loved ones to jobs, gatherings and general interactions — perhaps it’s time for a post-post-apocalyptic cinema, one that imagines a future of humanity following its best instincts, believing in the possibilities of science and technology and working together as a species to create a better world, even if most of reality is pointing in the opposite direction.

All of which to say is, apart from the pleasurable specifics of Hanks’ and Landry Jones’ performances (to say nothing of Seamus, the film’s scene-stealing canine co-star), you’ve seen all this before. Whether it’s toppled shopping carts on a sandy plain, one wheel spinning sadly in the wind (this film’s opening shot) or puckish needle drops commenting on the end of civilization (the film decides it is allowed, greedily and obviously, both “American Pie” and “Road to Nowhere” when it should have chosen only one), writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell and director Miguel Sapochnik traffic in the thuddingly familiar.

This isn’t even Hanks’ first man-alone movie; now he’s got a robot to talk to instead of a volleyball. Perhaps not coincidentally, “Cast Away” director Robert Zemeckis is an executive producer here.

In the not-too-distant future, Finch (Hanks) tools around the remains of St. Louis, scrounging for food and marking locations “CLEARED” of other human beings who, 15 years after gamma flares have devastated the ozone layer, are few, far between and thoroughly desperate. He and his dog Goodyear (Seamus) have it better than most; as a former engineer for a power company, Finch has an underground bunker that enjoys electricity created by the giant wind turbines above.

He’s used that electricity to build Jeff (Landry Jones), a tall robot that Finch has been feeding data from encyclopedias, RV owner’s manuals, dog-training books and other literature. When a massive storm makes its way into the area, Finch packs the dog and the robot into a camper to head west to San Francisco, where he hopes there will be less devastation and fewer civilians. In true “Short Circuit”/“Chappie” style, Jeff will learn from Finch (and from their adventures) what it is to be human, and Finch will reveal the secrets of his past, including his motivation for creating Jeff in the first place.

Like its screenplay, the production of “Finch” is well crafted and completely lacking in surprises – you probably already know what Finch’s fluorescent-lit underground lab looks like, along with the wind-swept desert landscapes of a devastated future world. Where the film comes alive is in individual moments with Hanks (who gets a crushing monologue about life choices and parental abandonment) and Landry Jones (finding new colors to the “robot as giant baby learning about the world” trope). As engaging and photogenic as newcomer Seamus is, however, it must be said that director Sapochnik (“Repo Men”) goes to the well of dog reaction shots more often than is advisable.

In the end, “Finch” probably could have worked without man, dog or Jeff ever leaving the bunker in the first place. But if you are entertained and reassured by the presence of Tom Hanks — now in his fifth decade as one of the most relatable movie stars ever — then you’ll find your own delight here. Just be ready to work past some visuals and plot points that are, like the canned peaches Finch scrounges up, well past their sell-by date.

“Finch” premieres Nov. 5 on Apple TV+.