Osmosis Jones
directed by Peter Farrelly
& Bobby Farrelly (live action),
Piet Kroon & Tom Sito (animation)
(Warner Brothers, 2001)

The Farrelly Brothers, noted for helming a number of successful broad, low-brow comedies, team up with a pair of talented animation directors, Piet Kroon and Tom Sito to create a funny fantasy film blending live action with the animator's art. The resulting gross-out gag fest provides surprisingly clever and visually dazzling satirical entertainment despite its fixation on bodily fluids and excreta of every conceivable sort.

Osmosis Jones opens by focusing on the character Frank Detorri (Bill Murray), a widower zookeeper with a passion for consuming junk food and just about anything else in sight including a hard-boiled egg that fell on the floor of a monkey's cage. Not surprisingly, this compulsive act of consumption soon causes Frank to feel unwell. The consequences of this culinary misadventure get revealed by cutting back and forth from live action to the animated sequences that conceive the interior of Frank as a cartoon city complete with decaying infrastructure, clogged artery highways and polluted outskirts populated by anthropomorphised blood cells, bacteria and antibodies. These last mentioned entities constitute the emergency personnel depicted as municipal cops mustering to cope with the incoming egg arriving at the intestinal airport and bringing with it threatening germs.

The awful puns start coming thick and fast in the City of Frank where the alert disrupts the bitter mayoral race between health zealot protoplast Tom Colonic (Ron Howard), and the incumbent, status-quo seeking, brain cell, smarmy Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner), oozing oleaginous charm and wanting to cover up the disturbance. The ones really on the job, eponymous protagonist Osmosis Jones, intentionally and ironically a white blood cell cop voiced by African-American Chris Rock who teams up with Drix (David Hyde Pierce), a stiff but studly commando-like antihistamine capsule, discover that, sure enough, the egg did indeed bring with it a deadly virus -- a real bad dude. This devilish-looking, velvety-voiced, trenchcoat-wearing sort, Thrax (Laurence Fishburne), soon lords it over the other germs (characterized wittily in the form of low life gangster types), and threatens to break into the hypothalamus and kill Frank in 48 hours.

Along the way to the literally feverish climax, the movie's animated portions treat the audience to Swiftian satire of municipal collapse with the body's distant corners -- a forehead pimple, a swollen ingrown toenail -- turning into festering slums in an environment stripped for resources with worn out deportees getting herded to the bladder docks and flushed out in a sea of urine; and with worsening physiopathological stats becoming material for glib newscasts. Much mirth also comes from parodies of hip-hop nightclubs, political campaigns, buddy-cop clichˇs on the part of the protagonist pair, and the highway signs ("Rectum: Exit Only," for example). Adding to the enjoyment, the excellent score shifts from dramatic music to pop tunes at appropriate moments. While the film makes the connection between eating junk food and ill effects on the body clear while poking fun at the same time (thus avoiding preachiness), it unfortunately fails to target the real source of Frank's gluttonous addictions -- the global corporate culture that relentlessly markets the over-processed, artificially-flavored, preservative-laden, deceptively tasty stuff.

The live action sequences contain the most gross-out humor, especially from Murray who gamely wallows in slobbiness along with his best friend, co-worker Bob (Chris Elliott). Frank's budding adolescent daughter Shane (Elena Franklin), who worries about her Dad's poor health habits, evokes sympathy, especially when she must also cope with a neurotic teacher Mrs. Boyd (Molly Shannon), who reminds us all of certain types we encountered in grade school.

The best parts of Osmosis Jones, unquestionably the wild and crazy Ren and Stimpy-type animation, offers eye-popping visuals depicting body organs and functions as an urban, city-scape squishily organic in nature. The barrage of verbal and visual jokes in conjunction with such a bizarre environment can be credited to the clever script, with the scenes showing Frank's subconscious and his dreams being quite brilliant (blending cartoons with CGI and live footage respectively). For those willing to tolerate the effluvia-festival of fun Osmosis Jones represents (humor definitely appealing to kids at a certain pre-adolescent stage), the film offers a fantastic voyage into a conception of human exterior and interior life laden with laughter that hopefully will also make you think twice about what you put in your mouth.

[ by Amy Harlib ]
Rambles: 25 August 2001

Buy it from Amazon.com.