A new, old movie, about a new, old problem
SPOILERS (we're not kidding)
The 1986 movie “Short Circuit” starring Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy, might have been a cultural touchstone, but it was a stupid movie. Critics called it, “Amiable and good-natured but also shallow and predictable, Short Circuit is hardly as deep or emotionally resonant as ET — though Johnny Five makes for a charming robot protagonist.”
“Number Five is the real star of this energetic film. Sheedy, Guttenberg, and company are just supporting players,” wrote Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, rating Short Circuit 1.5 out of 4 four stars and calling it “too cute for its own good.”
Johnny Five. That was the name of the robot that developed human-like consciousness in the 80s feature. In this 21st Century rehash, his name is Jeff. Big leap there. The movie is called “Finch” and it stars Tom Hanks as a solitary man in a desolate future who builds a robot. It’s a big budget original film by the Apple+ streaming service.
There are plenty of leaps that you have to make in order to suspend disbelief, even with Tom Hanks leading the way. One minute the robot can only nod; hours later, he’s learning to walk, a few days later, he’s talking like a character from a cartoon and dancing around the screen, driving an RV, and playing fetch with the dog.
Yes, there’s a dog. It’s an apocalyptic movie set in a dystopian future, so of course, there’s a dog — the only animal other than Tom Hanks, who seems to have survived the destruction of the atmosphere. Without a special suit, humans, as well as animals, just cook in the superheated UV sunlight.
Finch, played dutifully by Tom Hanks, of course, is the long-suffering scientist or tinkerer or engineer, who has survived. But it soon becomes clear that he’s not well, no doubt suffering the effects of all the radiation. It’s like Castaway and Legend, mixed with Book of Eli; only Finch is a self-described coward and his robot isn’t armed.
It’s like Castaway and Legend, mixed with Book of Eli; only Finch is a self-described coward and his robot isn’t armed.
He tells Jeff the robot that the reason he built him was to take care of the dog, which seems overly sentimental given that neither he nor the dog is likely to live very long anyway.
There is a scene early in the movie where Finch is using robots to scan book after book to feed it into the brain of his Frankenstein creation. Unfortunately, a storm arrives that is supposed to last 40 days, and he has to abandon his secure base of operations before the upload is complete. It’s unclear what was left out.
It seems strange that after all his time by himself, scrounging for food and materials, that he doesn’t have a month’s worth of rations saved up for just such an occasion. So, of course, they head West, where the scenery works better for dystopian, apocalyptic road movies.
Tom Hanks plays Tom Hanks, albeit a more morose, sad, and frightened version than we’re used to seeing. But he’s a side character in his own tale. Johnny Five — sorry, I mean Jeff — is the real star of the show. The special effects have gotten considerably better since 1986, so it’s all very real looking, but equally unbelievable.
There is no explanation for what expertise Tom Hanks has that allowed him to build a sentient robot on his first try. The timing of it seems haphazard at best and even a little impromptu. He got more excited when he made fire on the deserted island. Now he’s got a robot that dreams, and he seems completely unfazed.
The movie is not offensive in any way, rarely scary except for a few tense moments that don’t amount to anything, but it’s sad for its entirety. Just a dark, depressing glimpse into a possible future where none of us are likely to have the tools or the wherewithal to build a mechanical friend — who never seems to need charging by the way — to take care of our mutts when we’re gone.
They try to make it seem upbeat at the end, but seriously, who gives a shit if the robot is enjoying himself? I certainly wasn’t.