Can something be both artistic and juvenile?  This is the paradox I had to consider while watching Swiss Army Man, an independent film that's a combination of the stranded survivor theme and Weekend at Bernie's.

When we meet Hank (Paul Dano), he's stranded on a desert island.  He's been there so long that boredom and isolation (described on items he's sent to sea) have driven him to suicide.  Just as he's about to take that final step, he gets an unexpected companion: Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a corpse who washes up on shore.
At first, Manny seems to be good for nothing but expelling gas.  But after riding Manny like a jet-ski to a forested area, Hank finds that he can use Manny's body to accomplish a wide variety of tasks.  Hank also starts having conversations with the corpse: He knows it's probably a hallucination brought about by hunger or loneliness, but Hank still enjoys having someone to chat with.  Manny is almost a blank slate, but Hank hopes that helping Manny remember things -- from Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the beautiful woman on his iPhone, to societal rules -- will bring Manny back to life.
It's hard to know what to make of Swiss Army Man.  It doesn't take Mythbusters to know the movie takes substantial liberties with what someone can accomplish with a corpse -- but that's hardly the main issue, just part of the physical comedy from Manny being shifted and moved around.  Instead, the movie can't seem to decide between examining what it means to be part of the world (as described by Hank to Manny) and lowbrow comedy (from lots of flatulence to Hank dressing in drag to jog Manny's memories).  Paul Dano is decent as the everyman whose discovered corpse becomes his best friend, while Daniel Radcliffe does pretty well with physical comedy, as his body is continually cracking and shifting.

Swiss Army Man is uneven: thoughtful and funny at times, juvenile at others.  The mix doesn't always work, but it is something different.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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