Review: 'Swiss Army Man' Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, And Mary Elizabeth Winstead

NOTE: This is a reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival. Swiss Army Man opens June 24th. 

Daniel Radcliffe has cast quite a few spells as Harry Potter, but there isn't an "expecto patronum" in the world that can match the flatulent magic of his character's farts in Swiss Army Man. See, Radcliffe plays a dead body with a gas problem. Yep, he is a corpse throughout the entirety of the strange and tonally unsure directorial debut by "The Daniels", successful music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who seem to be aiming for the same do-it-yourself spirit and fantastical earnestness of Michel Gondry's and Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

What they ultimately come up with is a lot of hot air, literally, as the sound you'll hear most isn't star Paul Dano or even Radcliffe. It's the sound of farts; constant, ripping farts that achieve often incredible feats of fancy. Like, say, allowing the stranded Hank (Dano) to ride Radcliffe like a jet ski across the ocean, powered solely by his breaking wind. Magical farts.  How Hank ended up that deserted island is unclear (at first), but he's ready to call it quits. But just as he's about to hang himself he spots Manny's (Radcliffe) dead body washed up on shore. Cue the super-powered cheese cutting.

The power of Manny’s farts also seems to bring him back to life. He jitters and shakes and even begins to have conversations with Hank, who is more than appreciative of the company. It doesn't take long before a bond is formed between the two, and the film takes on a sort of Cast Away meets Weekend at Bernie's vibe, if everyone was stoned out of their freaking minds.  Manny's body does whatever Hank seems to need at the time. He vomits up water when needed, he gets a compass boner at the cell phone image of a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Hank has a crush on, but more importantly Manny serves as a companion.  Manny doesn't know a thing about the outside world and so it's up to Hank to teach him about love, happiness, fear, where poop comes from...y'know, the essentials.

Their discussions reveal more about Hank than the world, and what becomes obvious is that he's extremely lonely. That seems to be the point of all this weirdness, that people really don't like to be alone, and Hank has escaped into a reality he can call his own. But that seems like a rather easy observation to make and not really worthy of the audacious strokes the Daniels try to pull off. Granted, they deserve credit for making such a risky venture, and if the split reaction from Sundance is any indication this will definitely be divisive. Despite the novelty of a gaseous corpse Daniel Radcliffe, and some creative set design that recalls Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, the film actually has very little to say about love, loneliness or anything for that matter. But it has one heck of a fart machine.

Rating: 2 out of 5