Out of all the performers who strut and fret their way across various versions of stages, there are only a handful who by their mere presence can elevate the quality of a TV or film production. Tom Hanks is one of those actors, if not the best at being able to lift the bad to mundane and the mundane to good.
Hanks generally takes scripts from good to great but he didn’t have that kind of material with his latest project, “Finch.” The Oscar-winner does his best to elevate the post-apocalyptic tale of a man, his dog, a robot and an RV but the problem is that the script is so bad even Hanks can only get it to a passable mark.
The storyline of the movie – that debuts exclusively Nov. 5 on the streaming service of Apple TV+ – has Hanks playing Finch, a scientist who is one of the last humans on Earth. A solar flare has destroyed the ozone, turning every day into a fight for survival. Time is running out for Finch as the harsh world is draining what is left of his life force.
His only living companion is his dog, Goodyear. Finch needs to make sure in the event something happens to him – like his death – there will be someone – or something – to care for Goodyear.
Finch builds a self-aware robot – who eventually names himself Jeff – and then must find a way to teach the creation about passion, compassion and humanity. The time frame keeps shrinking as this all has to be done during a cross country trip to escape another major disaster.
Caleb Landry Jones (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) provides both the voice and physical movements for Jeff. Jones doesn’t help the production by giving Jeff a sing-song voice that continuously drifts up to the line of being annoying. He does get a few points for the physical humor he brings to the role.
The final version of Jeff is a computer-generated creation but Jones was on the set providing the movements for Jeff and giving Hanks an acting partner. His approach has just enough of an innocent quality – such as in scenes of Jeff learning to walk – that makes Jeff have a sweet juvenile quality.
This sweetness falls in the same mediocre range of most of the elements of the movie. It’s not a revolutionary performance but every little bit helps when the story is void of originality. The events in “Finch” unfold in a very predictable manner through the script by first-time film writer Craig Luck.
The script starts with a vague explanation of what has caused the disaster, puts Finch through the standard post-apocalyptic action such as the endless search for food and then sets a course across an American landscape that seems rather pristine for such a major calamity.
Everything about “Finch” comes across as being cut-and-pasted from past productions. In the hands of a lesser actor, the film would have come across as predictable and plodding. But, Hanks has the super power to bring unexpected life to a project. There is such a deep honesty to his acting that it is easy to get connected to the efforts by Finch to survive his dying world and educate Jeff as fully as possible.
Hanks did have some practice for this role. There are moments when “Finch” feels like an apocalyptic version of the 2000 Hanks movie “Cast Away.” Instead of his character being stranded on a deserted island, it is the whole world that is his prison.
In the case of “Finch,” Jeff ends up taking the place of the volleyball companion Wilson as the traveling companion. Hanks was amazing in “Cast Away” and the fact that he brings the same quiet intensity to this production ends up being a major help.
There is no question that “Finch” would have been little more than a B-grade film without the casting of Hanks. The much heralded actor again shows that he is one of the best at lifting up any project just by showing up to work. The sad part is that just showing up is not enough to earn a film high praise except that it is obvious everyone had good intentions.
2 1/2 stars
Cast: Tom Hanks, Caleb Landry Jones
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Rated: PG-13 for graphic images, language
Running time: 115 minutes.