Two guys meet on some faraway beach on some tiny uninhabited island. One is feeling lonely and desperate; the other bloated and gassy. The lonely one wants to return to civilization and wonders if the gassy one mightn’t be of assistance. Let’s say he might be converted into a fart-powered human water skidoo? A friendship is born! Swiss Army Man is a buddy movie, except one of its two buddies is a dead body.
Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who go by the collective moniker “Daniels,” have repurposed the central conceit of Weekend at Bernie’s for this spartan yet ostensibly outrageous dork’s fantasy of masculine utility. They’ve taken key elements of Stand By Me—boy-scout ingenuity, self-actualization in the wild with potty-mouthed pals, “Wanna see a dead body?”—and scaled everything back to make the dead body one of two central characters. They’ve given Daniel Radcliffe the opportunity to play the volleyball from Cast Away. All of which is certainly worth something. Surely the Daniels has set a record for fart-gag density at the very least. But Swiss Army Man makes for good sketch at best. Whatever it has to say about isolation, projection or poo simply doesn’t take very long. At over 90 minutes, the film is an endurance test that will leave you whimpering annoyingly like Paul Dano.
Dano plays the lonely man, Radcliffe the cadaver whose inexhaustible flatulence is powerful enough to provide jet propulsion and whose hyperkinetic boners are used as a compass. The buddies make it off the tiny isle and land on what will prove to be American soil—but they’re not out of the woods yet. They traipse through some trash-strewn forest for a while, constructing an elaborate man-cave kingdom that might have appealed to Wes Anderson if Wes Anderson didn’t have much, much richer ideas. At some point Radcliffe seems to recover consciousness, but he can’t quite remember how life works so Dano, alas, re-educates him.
These guys have so much fun inventing the world and building stuff you wonder why they don’t just stay out there forever. But no, they find their way back to people and houses—in fact they somehow find themselves arriving at exactly the person and house Dano has been dreaming of since he was just a dork on the bus staring creepily at fellow passengers. Let’s just say that the Looney Tunes final moments of Swiss Army Man do not make for a funny, satisfying or remotely coherent conclusion.
Opens Fri, July 15
Directed by Daniels