Swiss Army Many
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Opens June 24
In the gonzo Swiss Army Man, an inventive buddy comedy that eventually wears out its welcome, a stranded young man gains a newfound appreciation for the wonders of corporeal existence from that unlikeliest of sources—a dead body. A probable suicide, the charmed corpse in question (an appropriately stiff Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore at the beginning of the film, just in time to keep the every-loner Hank (an affecting Paul Dano) from offing himself as well. Thus writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert—who won the directing prize at this year’s Sundance for their first feature—have the viewer wondering from the get-go whether the hallucinatory action that follows is just a near-death experience of their protagonist. Whatever the case, Hank’s newfound friendship with “Manny,” as Hank christens the carcass, soon enough has him searching for a way out of the wilderness and back to civilization.
Kwan and Scheinert (heretofore best known for their clip for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s 2013 “Turn Down for What,” with its indelible wrecking-ball dancing) have made a movie that’s at once a soft-center story of friendship and a gross-out comedy that spins bodily mortifications as pure magic—Swiss Army is, then, a sort of Apatovian bromance by way of Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 alt-comedy of spontaneous reanimation Rubber, all the while moving along at the antic clip of a kids’ movie. Literally the first thing we learn about Manny is that he can’t stop farting—indeed, he passes gas with such regularity that it almost seems to be the dead man’s special way of respiring. For soon he does indeed show signs of life (though he’s retained no details of his previous one), questioning Hank at length about poop and masturbation, and revealing a whole host of practical superpowers besides. Early in the film, Hank has the inspiration of riding Manny “like a Jet Ski,” his farts propelling them over the waves; later, Hank discovers Manny’s member doubles as a compass when erect, toggling around in his trousers like a joystick with a mind of its own.
It’s hard not to appreciate the juvenile exuberance of many of these high jinks, and the hand-cranked effects with which many of them are rendered. The gags keep their novelty for longer than you’d expect, but the film falters when it comes time to drum up the requisite dramatic interest. For the most part sparing with backstory, Kwan and Scheinert nonetheless get bogged down on one particular piece of it—the not-particularly-compelling mystery of the pretty woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who’s pictured on an expiring cellphone in the guys’ possession. As the new BFFs playact scenarios involving the woman—and as they get ever closer to the world they’ve long since left behind—the film seems to, well, run out of gas. Strange enough for an adventure story, Swiss Army Man is at its ecstatic best when it doesn’t yet seem to be sure where it’s headed.