Finch might be best described as what would happen if Cormac McCarthy’s The Road starred Short Circuit’s Johnny 5. Director Miguel Sapochnik’s first feature since 2010’s underrated Repo Men is an odd if touching sci-fi road adventure in which the titular reclusive inventor (Tom Hanks), his loyal dog and his bumbling, toddler-like robot with superhuman strength (a solid motion-capture performance from Caleb Landry Jones) survive in a postapocalyptic wasteland. Sapochnik tries to blend grim survivalism with childlike discovery and communal exploration, and he does so well enough with a story that will tug at your heartstrings, even while you chortle at how occasionally weird it all is.
At times, Finch feels like a darker version of Disney’s 1997 remake of Flubber: In place of Robin Williams’ absentminded professor and that kooky basketball game, sub in a dying Hanks who is trying to get his beloved pooch to a safer destination by building an A.I.-driven robot to guide him there in the event of Finch’s passing. It’s heavy for a film that was produced in part by children’s book company Walden Media, though Sapochnik still finds some fish-out-of-water humor in Hanks’ scientist trying to guide a machine that looks like Chappie, acts like a Muppet and is very prone to accidents. Also, there are unseen murderous scavengers lurking around the corner.
The whole ordeal simply wouldn’t work without Hanks, who seems to be testing out some inventor-turned-father-figure character work for his upcoming turn as Geppetto in Disney’s live-action Pinocchio. Actors of Hanks’ iconic stature can really get away with most any performance, and here he puts forward a sort of tender desperation. The film is at its best when Sapochnik centers Hanks’ performance — which the actor managed to turn in while playing against a dog and a mo-cap robot who every now and again sounds like a younger Borat.
Finch sometimes struggles to balance the heavy thematic nature of its story with the unavoidably hilarious dynamic between a very naive robot and a short-on-patience Hanks. But it works when Hanks really digs into the sorrow of isolation and the endearingly sweet relationships Finch builds with his non-human cohorts. As also shown in 2000’s Cast Away, the actor really can make any kind of movie work with just his empathetic presence. Even when Finch feels tonally awkward, its humanistic streak keeps the film afloat. When it’s really working, it’s almost as if you took the resonance from the best moments in Pixar’s WALL-E and combined them with the simple charm of a Wallace and Gromit cartoon.