**½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Bill Murray, Molly Shannon, Elena Franklin, Chris Elliott
screenplay by Marc Hyman
directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, Piet Kroon and Tom Sito
by Walter Chaw If the devil is in the details, so, in Osmosis Jones, is most of the humour. It is one part Farrelly Brothers biological comedy and one part Piet Kroon and Tom Sito (late of The Iron Giant) animated genius; that the balance of the film is heavily in favour of the latter speaks to rare good thinkin' from the Hollywood brain trust. The live-action part stars Bill Murray as the slovenly Frank--Murray out-repulses co-star Chris Elliot, which means that he is very possibly the most disgusting human ever captured on film. The animation side features the voice of Chris Rock as the titular Osmosis Jones, a white blood cell cop who, after a controversial stomach evacuation, is busted down to mouth duty. If you're not sure what "mouth duty" entails--it's bad. When Frank is invaded by an evil virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne), Osmosis gets one last chance to make good, paired with a blustering blunderbuss of a timed flu capsule named Drix (David Hyde Pierce).
A microscopic buddy flick complete with a crusty police captain, a megalomaniacal Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner) bent on re-election, a sexy single cell (Brandy) who won't give our unfairly-maligned leukocyte the time of day, and a series of breathtaking circulatory car chases (along the Vena Cava Expressway) that take us on a giddy tour through all the major towns of Frank (and a few greasy fly-by-night joints like the club carbuncle), Osmosis Jones is amazingly fun and clever. That is, until Chris Rock has something to mumble. The debut script, by the appropriately anatomically-named Marc Hyman, is standard buddy cop fare, a thing with some charming twists (the lawyers in Frank live in the haemorrhoids, of course) but ultimately conventional and, at times, even slow. Helping the proceedings blister along are numerous sight and throwaway gags. Keep your eyes peeled, for instance, on the arrivals gate announcements at the stomach terminal: down below "fried chicken" and "oyster," hidden near the bottom, is a discreet "booger."
Puerile? Absolutely, though not nearly so bad as the Farrellys' track record for unabashed scatology would have you expect. The non-cartoon scenes are pared down to mere suggestion--a shockingly modest change from a directing duo who brought us an unspeakable new use for semen and the indelible image of a chicken protruding from someone's rear. The closest our single cells ever get to the "undercarriage" is a recollection of Jones's that he grew up in crack, the bad part of Frank, and a wrong turn on the arterial highway involving a misunderstanding of what the "uvula" is. Incidentally, the mother of three sitting behind me in the theatre spent a few anxious moments making the same mistake with her curious youngsters. Despite its gorge-friendliness, however, projectile vomiting, a mouthful of chewed chicken, a hastily-ingested egg that had been held in a chimp's mouth, and an unfortunately fecund pimple remind that Osmosis Jones is still a nasty little bit of business.
At some point during the organic festivities, I realized that Osmosis Jones is actually existentially disturbing, a disquieting portrait of the body impolitic with a quick and dirty trip into a locked room called "The Subconscious" that suddenly brings into glaring focus not only the central dementia of the entire conceit, but also the attention lavished on a giant yellow bus taking pilgrims to "The Bladder" and recreating the liver as a place inhabited by smarmy inoculation virus snitches who wile away the hours taking bets on chicken-pox fighting. A late-in-the-fight pep talk involves an unintentionally grim anecdotal story of a sugar pill that cured cancer, and a political commercial by upstart Tom Colonic details Frank's bowels as a stagnant slum teeming with squatters. I'd be mildly surprised if doctors of every ilk don't get some kind of business from Osmosis Jones; I'd be even more surprised if my proctologist doesn't get a call in the morning.
At the end of the day, Osmosis Jones is two standard stories: one about a father redeeming himself in the eyes of a neglected daughter, the other about a fallen cop redeeming himself with one last big case. It marries the viscera with the standard gross-out comedy play for the heart and, for the most part, it works because of its own visual inventiveness and the complete lack of pride on the part of both Murray and Elliott. This is the best animated American film since The Iron Giant, despite some late cribbing from Terminator 2 and (unavoidably, it seems) The Matrix. It's a movie for the whole family, although I'd wager the younger ones will be bored by the great stretches of exposition and "inside" jokes. It's funny in spite of a dangerously logy middle section and a lazy vocal performance by Rock (he's flaccid in every format save talk show host), and it will certainly improve upon repeated viewings--the writing on the intestinal walls is funnier than the action on the screen. The last thing I thought I'd be saying about a movie set mostly inside of Bill Murray is that it's smart--smart it is, but only in the details. Originally published: August 10, 2001.
by Bill Chambers Osmosis Jones will be the hit on video that it wasn't in theatres, just you wait; and if the film never was the most enticing prospect, the Osmosis Jones DVD surely is, in terms of picture and sound. The Warner disc sports a gob-smacking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer whose image is only a little compromised by over-sharpening and the blooming of whites, the latter problem limited to transitional shots from live-action to animation. As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, it's notably bassy--kids movies tend to avoid driving the LFE channel at full throttle. (Too bad a lot of the rumble is provided by bad and somewhat incongruous R&B tunes.) Because the film takes place, in large part, in a heightened reality, it has a stylized soundscape that rather aggressively splits up the surrounds.
Access a smattering of extras through sub-menus that change headings depending on their highlighted status ("Special Features" becomes "Smelly Feetures," for instance). The strange Brandy Norwood hosts "The Making of Osmosis Jones" (14 mins.), an HBO First Look special that's entertaining, for promotional fluff; the "Investigating the Vocal Cords" option takes you to a 5-minute featurette about the voice cast in which David Hyde Pierce is referred to for the second time on this platter as "the whitest white man...ever;" a 6-minute block of deleted scenes includes an extended version of the pre-climax car chase--line drawings are substituted for unfinished animation; limp group commentary from producer Zak Penn, screenwriter Marc Hyman, and animation co-directors Piet Kroon and Tom Sito at least lacks the Farrelly Brothers, whose habit of pointing out their friends has rendered every single one of their yak-tracks unlistenable; and the trailer practically begs us to blame the film's advertising for its box-office failure. Packaged inside every case is a CD sampler with songs and clips of songs from today's pre-fabbest bands. Originally published: December 13, 2001.