Swiss Army Man is a big existential fart joke. That's good news if you like fart jokes, not so good otherwise.
It should be noted, however, that this fearless oddity of an indie, written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe (the power of Dans!), is propelled by more than mere flatulence.
This is a movie about the safe haven of imagination, about loneliness and despair and resilience, about obsession and, um, stalking.
It begins on a desert isle, where a lone castaway, Hank (Dano), has had it. He's in the process of hanging himself when he spots a body washed up on the beach. It's a dead body, he realizes, but it has some life in it.
Gaseous beyond belief, the corpse (Radcliffe) can be bent and pushed and propped. And the bilious contents of its digestive track function as a source of motion, force. Hank soon discovers that there's plenty he can do with this body.
And he discovers that, albeit deceased, this body can talk. Really? Well, in Swiss Army Man, a certain suspension of belief is required - as is the understanding that Hank's sanity might be in suspension, too. The corpse's name is Manny.
Dano, who played a different sort of lost-in-his-dreams loner, Beach Boy Brian Wilson, in last year's bio, Love & Mercy, is wonderfully, wholly committed to the world of Hank. He hums and mumbles, he makes himself over in the guise of his one true love, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose image is wallpapered on his iPhone, an iPhone that's down to single percentiles of battery life.
Swiss Army Man is a quest movie of sorts, and also a sort of modern-day piece of absurdist theater. Samuel Beckett by way of Monty Python, it is a story that is at once rooted in the fixations of adolescence (sex, the idea of sex, bodily functions, more sex) and in the loftier firmaments of the mind.
Just be thankful that it hasn't been released in Odorama.
Swiss Army Man
***(Out of four stars)
yDirected by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. With Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Distributed by A24.
yRunning time: 1 hour, 35 mins.
yParent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
yPlaying at: area theaters