He has rescued mermaids, survived being marooned in deep space and on desert islands, matched wits with albino monks and Somali pirates, solved crimes with canines, and won World War II several times over. Yet not even Tom Hanks, national treasure and officially the nicest man in Hollywood USA, can stop the apocalypse. When we meet Finch Weinberg, the title character in this worst-case-scenario handwringer (premiering Nov. 5 on Apple TV+), he’s marching through the desolate, toxic wasteland of downtown St. Louis in a Hazmat suit. He is also singing Don McLean’s “American Pie” while a miniature makeshift droid — imagine WALL-E fucked a shopping cart — trails him down the aisles of an abandoned superstore. Anyone else, a viewer might be worried. Because it’s Hanks, however, there’s something oddly reassuring about this gent scavenging for food and navigating monster dust storms. Yes, we’re all hopelessly screwed. But we’re riding shotgun with the Last Everyman on Earth. It’s all going to be fine.
Except it’s not, because this former robotics engineer is slowly dying. Ten years ago, a solar flare turned the ozone layer “into Swiss cheese;” after an electromagnetic pulse knocked out power grids across the country and extreme weather began ripping through towns and cities, the thin fabric that held civilization together was torn asunder. And even though Finch has been careful to avoid exposure to deadly UVA rays and 165-degree temperatures outside of his underground lab/home base, he can feel the radiation poisoning working its way through his system. This humble hero has made peace with the fact he will soon meet his maker. But then who will take care of his best friend, a scrappy terrier named Goodyear?!
Luckily, Finch has a solution. Thanks to his dogged collecting of scrap and scanning of books onto a hard drive, he’s about to create a caretaker. This tall, loping toddler of a robot — having rejected William Shakespeare and Napoleon Bonaparte as potential names, he’s eventually dubbed “Jeff;” we would have gone with Mecha-Wilson, personally, but whatever — has to be taught how to walk, to properly talk, to understand the responsibility of nurturing a living thing. First, however, man, dog and droid have to get out of their dystopian Dodge ASAP, as a storm predicted to last 40 days will essentially leave them imprisoned. (Feel free to tick “biblical reference” off your checklist.) So the three of them pile into a customized Winnebago, point the vehicle west toward San Francisco, and pray that Jeff can learn to be human before his actual human companion shuffles off this mortal coil.
Finch is, by design, a road movie, a robot’s coming-of-age tale, an ecological cautionary tale, a sci-fi weepie, Cast Away: The End-Times Edition, and a two-hander drama, with one of said hands being metal. It is also the clunkiest parenting parable to come down the pike in a long time and, we can assure you, a real movie, as opposed to something we just made up courtesy of a Mad Libs exercise. Although you might wonder during some of the more ham-fisted and cloyingly sentimental moments whether you are being pranked. Hanks may be in prime 3,000-yard-stare mode, which he’s more than perfected after decades of playing decent men facing down disasters, but there’s no sense of the spark he usually brings to roles like this. It’s less like he’s on autopilot, and more like he’s tamped down so hard on his charisma for this character that the basic good, bad, and ugly of Finch barely register. Even a tragi-expositionary monologue flatlines. (On the plus side, Get Out‘s Caleb Landry-Jones voices the robot, and it’s the most human and least creepy thing the wide-eyed young actor has ever done.) There are CGI catastrophes and one stunning overhead shot of a metropolis in ruins that remind you that director Miguel Sapochnik has a half dozen Game of Thrones episodes to his name. The whole thing feels so stiflingly familiar that you wonder what has more spare parts, the robot or the movie it’s in.
All of this would be slightly more forgivable if Finch didn’t lean so heavily into a finger-wagging tone that suggests the subject of all this constant lecturing isn’t Jeff so much as you. It’s hard to say whether the movie, finished pre-pandemic and scheduled to come out last year under the even more questionable title BIOs before Universal offloaded it to Apple, would have played slightly better without a real-life social meltdown happening outside our doors. But you do feel that its portrait of a world turned upside-down gives us a dystopian future that now feels like something quaint out of the past. “The solar flare didn’t finish us off — we did that to ourselves,” Hanks intones gravely, one of several facepalm-inspiring lines that suggest he should have received hazard pay. No rational person would dispute that climate change, out-of-control meteorological phenomena, and the pettiness of our species has put us literally and figuratively in hot water. And virtually no one wants to hear all of this being thrown at them via an “OK Boomer” meme that’s become sentient. If nothing else, this hot mess does make you more sympathetic to other cinema du robot life lesson entries. Come back, Chappie. All is forgiven.