During this cinematic Summer of Dumb, it would be all too easy to celebrate half-assed cleverness as a virtue, especially when proffered by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who elevated the gross-out to an art form in Kingpin and There's Something About Mary. Osmosis Jones, one of two films the Booger Brothers are offering this year, is at once their most restrained and their coarsest offering. It's a film about the animated inner workings of a slovenly zookeeper, Frank Detorri (Bill Murray), with a bottomless appetite for crap, including a hard-boiled egg that's been sucked on by a caged monkey. Frank's body, from his carbuncle-infected forehead to his oozing ingrown toenail, is less a temple than a decaying ghetto, complete with microscopic card-shark hustlers and viral hit men (chief among them Thrax, an infection with E. coli envy, voiced by Laurence Fishburne) plotting Frank's demise from the inside and corrupt politicians trying to prop up the rubble. Mix in two squabbling cop partners -- Chris Rock as Osmosis Jones, a cuddly, pissed-off white blood cell with a badge, and David Hyde Pierce as Drix, proud cold medicine dolled up in Buzz Lightyear's rave threads -- and the whole thing plays like Lethal Weapon 4 recast as a Fantastic Voyage-type Saturday-morning cartoon.
It's a mess, and only a vaguely different sort than the Farrellys are used to making; they keep the jizz inside. Save for two scenes in which Frank explodes all over his daughter's teacher, Mrs. Boyd (irritant Molly Shannon, channeling every character she ever played on Saturday Night Live), the bodily fluids are seen only during the animated sequences. But this is a family film, rated PG, meaning the brothers had to excise a sperm-workout scene inside a testicular hangout called Gonad's Gym. There's no accounting for taste, perhaps, when your leading man is willing to swallow anything.
But Osmosis Jones, which jarringly cuts back and forth between the real world and Frank's animated interior, is too obvious and disjointed to satisfy even Frank's cravings; it's junk food, empty calories dolled up as a main course. The scenes that take place in the real world are just tepid setups for the goings-on inside Frank's pale, bloated body, and those scenes (animated by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon, rookies who show their awkwardness) slide by on sight gags that become tiresome in their repetition. It's funny and even a little stunning the first time you see how fetid Frank's infrastructure has become -- in the so-called City of Frank, there are signs everywhere proclaiming such things as "Danger! Open Cavity!" -- but there are only so many ways to turn organs into cellular nightspots and government buildings before the settings all begin to look the same.
Animation sequences by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon. Screenplay by Marc Hyman.
By the time our tour of Frank's innards lands us in the Zit, a throbbing club in which an animated Kid Rock performs (as Kidney Rock, har har), you can't help but feel the excursion has reached its inevitable dead end. Osmosis Jones treads clumsily upon the line separating clever from stupid: For every random line that passes as a joke ("Me and my girlfriend are going down to the kidneys to see the Stones," one cell says to another. "Yeah, they could pass any day now."), there are a dozen more that turn into allergens. You won't laugh, but you may very well sneeze at the whole affair. And after the vacuous dazzle of Shrek and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the animation here is positively retro.
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It's no surprise that Osmosis Jones plays like a sloppy hodgepodge: The live-action scenes were done by the Farrellys, the animation by Sito and Kroon, and the script was penned by another first-timer, Marc Hyman. Nobody seems to be on the same page. The live scenes drag like Frank's fleshy belly, which he fills with candy, peanuts and beer, while the animated sequences work overtime to compensate for the slack pacing. The tone varies wildly as the Farrellys keep things dim and mawkish. It's two movies in one that add up to half: Just when things get going in the stomach, which is dressed up like an airport ("Unannounced oyster now arriving at Gate Four!" shouts the intercom), we're yanked out like an abscessed tooth and thrust back into everyday banality.
Rock and Hyde Pierce do little more than play variations on their familiar personas: Rock prattles on, gamely trying to milk blood from a gallstone, while the Frasier co-star looks on with indifference and disdain. It's 48 Hrs. starring a twelve-hour time-release cold capsule. William Shatner blusters his way through the role of Mayor Phlegmming (he hasn't done this much acting since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), and Brandy plays his assistant, Leah, the love interest who isn't terribly interesting (oddly, at one point, Rock actually refers to Leah as "Brandy," suggesting a modicum of ad-libbing in a script bereft of much charm).
Lost in all the pea-soup vomit and lemon-yellow mucus is Murray, who's left for dead in a scene that kills whatever momentum the film can muster. He seems to have little interest or life left in him; Frank's lethargy is contagious, infecting the film like a deadly virus. He does more damage than Fishburne's dreadlocked Thrax, whose touch is lethal and whose looks are eerily Darth Maul. So if you feel the need to see Osmosis Jones, it'd be wise to get your shots first.