This unhinged, experimental debut from co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert combines off the chart absurdity with puerile gross-out humour to deliver a remarkably unique, albeit not entirely satisfying cinematic experience. At the heart of the film is the relationship between Hank (Paul Dano) and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). As the film opens, Hank is stranded on what appears to be a deserted island, noose around his neck, about to jump into eternal oblivion. His salvation arrives via Manny, a corpse who washes up on the beach. Suddenly Hank’s no longer alone, and even though his new comrade is dead, the faintest glimmer of companionship is enough to spark the survival instinct in Hank . Upon these foundations, one of the most unlikeliest and bizarre friendship’s in recent film history is forged.
At first, the corpse provides Hank with some basic practical utilities that may be key to his return to the real world. Manny’s erect penis being employed as a compass is just one example of an array of visual gags that enliven proceedings and have to be seen to be fully appreciated. When Manny starts to talk, the film ventures into existential bromance territory as the pair bond whilst contemplating love, masturbation and the virtues of Jurassic Park. The overall effect feels like a cross between a David Gordon Green film and an episode of The Mighty Boosh. It’s very entertaining but just doesn’t have much depth.
While the visual inventiveness and sheer whacked out narrative approach makes this never less than engaging, the character’s banter is ponderous without being especially insightful or interesting. The comedy falls flat as well, overly reliant on a string of fart and dick jokes which become repetitive and less effective as the film progresses. This is the first feature film from the Daniel’s and while their refusal to play by the rules has a quirky appeal, they would have been better served by spending more time on developing an interesting story or smarter ideas around their central premise. The performances from the two leads are excellent though. The endearing Dano brings an off-kilter hyper weirdness to his character, while Radcliffe delivers a remarkable physical performance as the farting corpse. The film looks great, the striking cinematography making potent use of the lush Californian coast and a fine soundtrack (devised by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell from indie rock outfit Manchester Orchestra), adds an effective, mesmeric atmosphere throughout.
There’s definite fun to be had with Swiss Army Man. The image of Dano riding Radcliffe through the ocean propelled by the power of flatulence is enough alone to recommend. In terms of it’s structural and visual originality, it is a commendable achievement from a pair of young filmmakers who obviously have an abundance of talent. Scratch beyond the subversive surface though and the film comes up somewhat lacking. It’s an enjoyable peculiarity, but not as funny or profound as it aspires to be.