PLOT A soldier bonds with a corpse that washed up on an island.
CAST Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe
RATED R (strong language, rude humor and sexual references)
BOTTOM LINE Strange and, at times, strangely compelling.
“Swiss Army Man” may be the strangest, most inventive movie of the year.
Paul Dano plays Hank, a man stuck on a desert island. He’s preparing to hang himself when he notices something in the distance: a dead body that has washed up onshore. On further investigation, Hank realizes that the corpse (played by Daniel Radcliffe) is extremely gassy. His flatulence is so powerful, the marooned man manages to ride the body, like a Jet Ski, off the island.
It’s a shame that “Swiss Army Man” begins in a way that might immediately inspire walkouts, because the rest of the movie doesn’t seem nearly as juvenile as those first few minutes.
After Hank and his makeshift watercraft land on another remote beach, the corpse begins to reanimate. He is barely able to move on his own, but he can speak. His name is Manny, he says, and he has many powers beyond the Jet Ski trick.
Hank puts stones in Manny’s mouth and turns him into a gun, and hits Manny’s arm in a certain way so that it doubles as an ax. Hank even alleviates his dehydration by using the drowned man’s waterlogged lungs as a drinking fountain.
First-time filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who won the best director award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, reveal the beauty and strangeness of the human experience, but also the solipsism. For all its body-centric gags, the movie sneaks up on you, offering the chance to re-examine the way we live instead of wandering around on autopilot.
The directors’ methods aren’t always as inspired as their story. In the forest, on their way back to civilization, Hank uses shadow-puppet re-enactments of famous movies — and staged scenes from his own past — to explain life to Manny. “Swiss Army Man” is also undermined by a late twist that takes a turn for the creepy.
That won’t be the only thing that turns people off about the film, which, it’s safe to say, isn’t for everyone. But the story is astoundingly original. During the summer months, when theaters are occupied by superheroes and sequels, that’s something worth celebrating.