Daniel Radcliffe gives the performance of a lifetime playing dead in “Swiss Army Man.”
Forget Harry Potter. Kid stuff. As a flatulent corpse, found rolling in the surf off a desert island, Radcliffe does amazing work working with a very limited palette of physical movements.
With eyes fixed and staring from a face the color of clay, and with his body motionless in awkward stick-figure poses, Radcliffe builds a whole performance from the movement of his mouth. Talking haltingly, he brings his character to … well, if not exactly life, then consciousness of a sort. He conveys curiosity and a odd sort of sweetness in a movie that is way beyond odd.
Corpse gas is the driver of this story, in the literal sense in a key scene in which Radcliffe’s character, Manny, goes jetting across the ocean propelled by emissions from his hindquarters. Toot, toot. This, while the movie’s other main character Hank (Paul Dano), riding on his back, whoops and hollers like Slim Pickens riding the bomb down in “Dr. Strangelove.”
And yes, that’s very strange. And very funny.
The sensibilities of the guys that came up with this, writer-directors and first-time feature makers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, come from so far out in left field that the field vanishes from view.
The atmosphere is surreal yet reality-grounded as Dano, a lonely, suicidal fellow named Hank on the verge of hanging himself (because he’s lonely, see) drags Manny up out of the surf and befriends him. Acute loneliness will make a guy do strange stuff.
The corpse speaks and amazement follows on Hank’s part, especially when he learns of all the cool stuff a gas-filled corpse can do. Like propel projectiles out of his mouth. And thus is game killed and food felled. And spew forth drinking water from the same mouth. (Sound here of readers running away, holding their own mouths.) Versatility, of a Swiss Army knife variety!
Oh, and, also relationship advice and dating tips are offered from Hank to Manny inspired by a tattered copy of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Sometimes hilarious, ultimately poignant, “Swiss Army Man” is a picture like no other.
Swiss Army Man
☆☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert.
Running time: 1:35.
Rated: R, for language and sexual material.