The key point coming away from early reviews of Swiss Army Man was that it was the “Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse” movie. The marketing that sold the movie months after that buzz started circulating didn’t stray too far from that and, in doing so, pretty accurately sold the movie.
The story follows Hank (Paul Dano), a man who’s stranded on a small island and ready to take his own life because he’s run out of hope. One days he sees a corpse who he eventually calls Manny (Radcliffe) and finally has someone to connect with. He soon finds Manny has a number of useful abilities that help him waterski across the water, chew through rope, shoot rocks at squirrels and more. Hank is trying to get back to the world so he can finally tell a girl he’s been admiring from afar how he feels, but there are a number of complications that spice things up once he’s back in civilization.
So how is that such an intriguing and ridiculous premise winds up being so…boring?
I’ll say this right off the bat: The campaign sold the movie pretty accurately. The execution of the idea is every bit as audacious as the marketing made it seem. The problem, at least for me, is that said marketing campaign only really had one note to play and that’s actually the case with the movie itself.
That Hank is kind of a delusional sad sack is evident from the first frame he’s in. The problem is that the movie doesn’t go anywhere interesting from that starting point. There’s an arc to the character, sure, but time after time as he’s given the opportunity to something differently the story pushes him back into the quirky premise, offering nowhere for him or the audience to go.
I understand that the lack of growth is part of the story. Instead of immediately and feverishly trying to get home and find his loved ones he takes his time, building a little life with Manny that he then winds up rebelling against, only to come back to at the end. Hank is too beautiful for this world, the ending seems to say, taking kind of a cop out when it comes to his personality and the journey that he’s been on. Not only does the situation with Manny resolve itself in an expected, though nonsensical, way, but Hank is given the opportunity to escape and live the wonderful life of the imagination that, it seems, is where his heart truly is.
But that resolution isn’t earned anywhere in the story and doesn’t make more sense upon further reflection. It’s an easy out, letting everyone off the hook, from Manny to those around him in civilization who can only look on with a mix of wonder and horror as he seemingly embraces his destiny.
The problem isn’t that the marketing misleadingly sold the movie, it’s that the finished product waiting at the other end of the campaign isn’t entirely worth the journey. In the end it didn’t really deliver on anything other than the idea that it was “the movie about the farting corpse.”