Even before we meet the odd couple who constitute 95% of Swiss Army Man, we are given hints of the oncoming oddness through the credits as various ‘send help’ notes drift by on increasingly curious and elaborate vessels – including one that ends with the exclamation, ‘I AM SO BORED!’
Then we get to the meet incredibly uncute between suicidal castaway Hank and waterlogged corpse Manny and the fart and penis jokes commence – but if you stick with it, Swiss Army Man becomes a vehicle for existential angst, meditations on love, friendship and life itself (however twisted and insane they might be). It might even be considered a superhero spoof (but I’m not saying another word about that – Except the word superpowers…).
Following the inventive opening credits, we first see Hank (Paul Dano) about to hang himself when he sees something that might be a man, wash up on the beach of the pitifully small island on which he’s stranded.
He struggles to free himself; his improvised rope snaps, and he rushes to investigate. When he discovers that the body is a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe), he steals its belt, patches up his rope and is about to commit suicide when he hears something – the corpse is farting! Powerfully.
Inspiration strikes and he uses the body to improvise a jet ski – skipping over the ocean to land. Land that appears to be an enforested, lonely place far from civilization. When he takes his frustration out on the corpse – by punching it – it speaks to him, basically asking why he did that.
Before long, Manny (for so it dubs itself) and Hank are buddies surviving in the wilderness and mooning over the photo of a beautiful woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on Hank’s phone.
Between fart gags and penis jokes (Manny’s erect penis functions as a compass), a friendship evolves that builds to something more as Hank coaches Manny on how to approach a woman on a bus (he took that photo on a bus but was too insecure to approach the woman.
If Swiss Army Man has been surreal up ‘til now, it shifts into hyperdrive here.
The result is something like a combination of Castaway (with Dano in the Tom Hanks role) and Bernie from Weekend with Bernie (with Radcliffe in the Terry Kiser role) on really, really good acid.
Dano, as usual, is superb – and Radcliffe is not only brilliantly funny and poignant as Manny, this may be the performance of a lifetime for him.
Written and directed by Daniels (music video/short film impresarios Daniel Kwan and Scheinert), Swiss Army Man goes full tilt weird; moves into a few moments of seeming reality and then… Well, it’s safe to say that you’ve never seen anything quite like – and probably won’t ever again.
Daniels have a vision and though the film may not be as technically accomplished as their music videos and shorts, it’s remarkably inventive and engaging if you take it in with an open mind.
When it played at Sundance, half the audience walked out but the other half thought it was brilliant. I fall in with the latter. Swiss Army Man is much more than a feature-length fart joke. Trust me.
Final Grade: A