- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

"Osmosis Jones" would be difficult to trump as a crackpot notion for a feature film.
A blend of cartoon animation and live-action farce — about four parts of the former to one of the latter — it aims to reconcile adventure spectacle and gross-out humor with public-spirited instruction. The Warner Bros. film shows how a virus almost overwhelms the defenses dwelling in the internal organs of a grotesque, health-scorning human named Frank.
Bill Murray fills the role of Frank in the live-action episodes, attributed to the farcical specialists Bobby and Peter Farrelly. Employed as zookeeper, widower Frank repeatedly alarms his affectionate, well-informed daughter Shane (Elena Franklin) by behaving carelessly and eating wretchedly. The potentially fatal virus, called Thrax and dubbed by Laurence Fishburne during the animated sequences, gets a toehold when Frank insists on wolfing a piece of food that falls near a monkey cage, after a tug of war between ravenous keeper and ravenous ape.
Two resourceful animated heroes emerge as Frank's immune system struggles to fight off infection. They are Chris Rock as the voice of a blue-tinted, ethnic immune cell called Osmosis Jones, Oz for short, and David Hyde-Pierce as the voice of a red-suited cold capsule, Drix. The battle for Frank's life is envisioned as a triumphant cliffhanger, but the problem for the movie is convincing a mass audience that it's an inspired novelty.
The hitch is that "Osmosis" wears out its welcome. A fast and efficacious "Osmosis" — it should conform to the running time of a typical cartoon, seven or eight minutes — might have been a whimsical classic. It could have served the purpose of public health propaganda while sweeping spectators off their feet.
Prolonged, it's the sort of ordeal that refuses to grow on you, in part because of sojourns into such animated settings as the bladder and the bowels. Theoretically, this is one way for the Farrelly Brothers to reconcile gross-out humor with social betterment. But I see no reason to cheer them on while they pretend to split the difference.
Was it clever or just downright stupid to encourage Mr. Murray to look so slobby that Frank's abused innards are comelier than his motley exterior? His exceptionally scurvy appearance implies that he's oblivious to his daughter's feelings and sense of shame. He becomes more hateful than neglectful, not to mention neglectful in defensibly amusing ways.
Chris Elliott is cast as a superfluous slobby sidekick, Bob. The movie might have been more amusing if both Frank and Bob had become infected and "Osmosis'" suspense was predicated on which imbecile would croak first. But Mr. Elliott seems to be around mainly as a holdover from "There's Something About Mary."
Not all the agendas may have been in sync. Screenwriter Marc Hyman, who also contributed to "Dr. Dolittle 2" earlier in the summer, evidently regarded the project as a cartoon spoof of buddy-cop movies, with the emphasis on Oz and Drix as a resourceful mismatch. Their interplay is certainly more confident than the live-action scenes. It's also fun to hear William Shatner as the voice of Frank's inner "mayor," who prefers to duck all problems.
The cliffhanging circumstances that allow Frank to avert death in the emergency room are allowed to get so complicated that they're impossible to figure out. "Osmosis Jones" doesn't lack for talent, but it shows what happens when common sense and proportion get scorned. Seeing "osmosis" in the title of a feature film is a first, however. That may be as unusual as Woody Allen's breakthrough with "deconstructing."

TITLE: "Osmosis Jones"
RATING: PG (Occasional slapstick vulgarity, typically involving cartoon depictions of repulsive bodily processes)
CREDITS: Live-action sequences directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Animation directed by Piet Kroon and Tom Sito. Written by Marc Hyman.
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes

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