Swiss Army Man Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Directed by Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
“What the f*ck?” is the final line spoken in Swiss Army Man, and it’s a pretty apt summary of the preceding movie. The feature debut from writing-directing duo Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan (music-video veterans who collectively call themselves the Daniels), Swiss Army Man starts out as a bizarre cross between Cast Awayand Weekend at Bernie’s, starring Paul Dano as a depressed man stranded on a deserted island and Daniel Radcliffe as a corpse that washes up onshore. Dano’s Hank starts talking to the dead body, whom he calls Manny, but the conversation is only briefly one-sided: Soon Manny begins to display useful powers (including farts that propel Hank and Manny to the mainland) and talk back, although he seems to have no understanding of human behavior or society.
As Hank then spins a romantic narrative around a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on whom he’s previously fixated, Swiss Army Manturns into a Michel Gondry-style whimsical musing on the meaning of life, punctuated by gross-out jokes. The transition from slapstick humor to wide-eyed wonder (and back again) is clumsy, and none of the movie’s emotional epiphanies feel earned. The Daniels build to what should be a moving portrayal of love, hope and friendship, but it’s just a baffling mess that’s as perplexing to the audience as to the exasperated character who utters that final line.