Hank is stranded on an island and is about to kill himself.
His life flashes before his eyes and it is not the life he had imagined for himself – full of “parties, friends, guitar and possibly a girl.”
Suddenly, a man washes up onshore and although dead, his body has enough stored energy in the form of flatulence that Hank realizes he can ride “Manny” like a jet ski. While they don’t find help, they do get closer to civilization and a grateful and lonely Hank lifts Manny onto his back.
Thus begins “Swiss Army Man” – a surreal quest for survival and highly unusual buddy film.
During their adventure, Manny’s assorted body parts serve as jet ski, canteen, firestarter, gun, razor, wood-splitter, slingshot, and in moments of excitement, a compass.
Sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” skit. But writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who go by Daniels) were not aiming to update “Weekend at Bernie’s” for a new generation.
They want it all – Fellini, fantasy and fart jokes. Between the MacGyver-esque episodes, Hank reveals his innermost thoughts, memories and dreams to Manny.
There are some funny and touching scenes in the woods as Hank creatively reimagines daily life.
A highlight is Hank re-creating his bus ride for Manny, using magazine pages to show the scenes whizzing by the window and a beautiful underwater scene.
As Manny, Daniel Radcliffe has enough winsome charm to imbue life into any character. With the challenge of having to speak with very little expression, he still manages to create a living, breathing character. Paul Dano’s Hank has to carry Manny and most of the film.
While he tries to capture both Hank’s world-weariness and idealism, it is a heavy load.
The presence of the gassy corpse often provides comic relief if the proceedings become too existential or contemplative.
The filmmakers and stars have spoken a great deal about Manny’s flatulence, which makes the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles” seem mild. This film may end up with a similar cult following, notwithstanding its marketing dilemma: Those looking for Adam Sandler-esque sophomoric humor may be put off by its humanity, and those wanting a sensitive indie gem may be annoyed by the gross-out humor.
Like its subject matter, it wants to be the all-purpose movie.
“Swiss Army Man” is lovingly and beautifully made. While poignant, yet wickedly funny in spots, it can also get tiresome. After successfully straddling reality and fantasy for most of the film, the ending is a disappointment and I found myself wishing it had ended differently – and a bit sooner.
I cannot wait to see what the Daniels do next.
3 stars (out of 4)
Title: “Swiss Army Man”
Starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe
Directors: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Rated: R for language and sexual material.
Running time: 95 minutes
The lowdown: A man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.