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"OSMOSIS JONES"
(2001) (Bill Murray, voice of Chris Rock) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: After a slovenly man unknowingly ingests a deadly virus, a humanized white blood cell and his cold medicine pill partner set out to find and stop the parasite inside the man before it kills their human host.
PLOT:
Frank Detorri (BILL MURRAY) is a slovenly zoo worker who doesn't take good care himself, much to the chagrin of his daughter, Shane (ELENA FRANKLIN), who doesn't want to lose him like she did her now deceased mom. Fired from his previous job for unwittingly vomiting in public on Shane's teacher, Mrs. Boyd (MOLLY SHANNON), Frank now spends his time working with Bob (CHRIS ELLIOT) when not ingesting the worst possible things for his body.

That's bad new for Osmosis Jones (voice of CHRIS ROCK), a humanized white blood cell inside Frank's body who serves as a cop of sorts who must capture various odd germs and such that have made their way into Frank's system. The opinionated, fast-talking Jones isn't popular with those who rule the interior environs, particularly Mayor Phlegmming (voice of WILLIAM SHATNER), who's preoccupied with running for reelection, although his assistant, Leah (voice of BRANDY NORWOOD), is more tolerant of the cell.

After Frank eats a hardboiled egg that was on the zoo's ground after being in a chimp's mouth and then not surprisingly becomes sick, Jones is assigned to work with Drix (voice of DAVID HYDE PIERCE), a cold medicine capsule, to find whatever's ailing him and make things better. That turns out to be tougher than they imagined when they discover that the culprit is Thrax (voice of LAURENCE FISHBURNE), a vicious and deadly virus who wants to claim Frank at his next victim and do so in record time.

From that point on, the odd-couple pair tries to find and stop the killer and his various minions, all while Frank develops various complications from what's occurring inside his body.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In today's world where image is king and most celebrities and everyday folk are always conscious of how they appear to others, it's refreshing to see stars who throw all fashion and social caution to the wind for various acting parts. Of course, there are performers who use that as their one, lone gimmick and milk it for all it's worth, and then those with a larger repertoire who know how to use such tactics both effectively and efficiently.

Actor Bill Murray ("Charlie's Angels," the "Ghostbusters" films) is certainly one of the latter and that's clearly on display in "Osmosis Jones," a half live-action, half animated comedy that thankfully doesn't attempt to intermingle the two, as was the case in the disastrous "Monkeybone" and "Cool World."

In it, Murray plays a single dad and zoo employee for which adjectives such as slovenly and unkempt don't even come close to describing his characteristics properly. With the live-action bits directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly (of "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber" outrageous comedy fame), it will come as little surprise that Murray vomits, farts and allows a large zit on his forehead to upstage him. Yet, where such material easily could have been just offensive and/or stupid (and some viewers will probably see it that way), Murray makes such comedy amiable and funny.

It's when his character eats a hardboiled egg that not only was just in a chimp's mouth but also on the zoo's ground (although not long enough to break the 10-second, still safe to eat rule), that things become more interesting and often far funnier.

That's because all of that leads to the animated portion of the picture that takes place inside his character's body where a highly clever and ultra-imaginative, self-contained world has been created. Part "Fantastic Voyage," part "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask," with some "Lethal Weapon" thrown in for good measure, the film gets an A for creative ingenuity due to its terrific, fine details. Yet, it only manages a C or so for the execution of its main story where two "cops" pursue a nefarious villain who's hell-bent on raising Cain and burying the human protagonist.

Oh, but those details and how wonderful they are as various parts of the body (at least the ones that wouldn't bump the film into PG-13 or R territory) are wonderfully re-imagined in this miniature, yet grandiose, Sim City type world. Much like "The Flintstones" took a clever look at showing modern day conveniences as filtered through prehistoric creatures and materials, this film is a delight to watch for both the obvious and subtle details.

There's a corrupt mayor who's more concerned with being reelected and constructing a third chin on the human protagonist's face than in doing what's right or answering the press' questions about eight-five percent of red blood cell children not knowing how to carry oxygen. Germs are viewed as illegal aliens trying to scurry across the "border," fireman attempt to put out sore throats with fire hoses, and the stomach is conceived as an airport terminal with scheduled and unscheduled arrivals and departures.

That's just scratching the surface of the fun details and word play that screenwriter Marc Hyman (making his feature film debut) and animation directors Piet Kroon (making his feature film debut after being the storyboard artist for "The Iron Giant" and "Quest for Camelot") and Tom Sito (who's worked on various Disney and DreamWorks animated films) have created and fashioned, and it's occasionally difficult to catch every little joke that's been stuffed into the early and highly entertaining part of the production.

The basic story plays off the mismatched, cop pairing that's fueled films such as those occurring in the "Lethal Weapon" and "Rush Hour" series. Here we have a loose cannon white blood cell - voiced with the usual vigor by Chris Rock ("Down to Earth," "Nurse Betty") - and a by the books cold capsule - superbly voiced by David Hyde Pierce ("Isn't She Great," "Nixon") - who are teamed together to stop, capture and eradicate a deadly virus that's given a slick, menacing voice by Laurence Fishburne ("Event Horizon," "What's Love Got To Do With It?").

While that's clever in and upon itself, provides for some laughs based on the individual behavior and characteristics of Rock's and Pierce's characters, and obviously moves the story along, most of the basic plot - that obviously looks and feels rather familiar - doesn't live up to the clever opening and its imaginative details.

Once set up, the rest of the film alternates between the animated and live-action worlds, with Elena Franklin (making her debut), Molly Shannon ("Superstar," "Analyze This") and Chris Elliot ("There's Something About Mary," "Cabin Boy") joining Murray, but they obviously fall into his and the film's relatively tame gross out humor shadows.

Back in the animated world, there's the vocal work of William Shatner ("Miss Congeniality," the "Star Trek" movies and TV series) as the body's self-centered mayor, Brandy Norwood ("I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," TV's "Moesha") as his assistant, and an uncredited Ron Howard (the actor from "Happy Days" and director of "Apollo 13") as the mayoral opposition who briefly appears in a funny election commercial.

While the film does drag a bit in its second half and unfortunately is the umpteenth movie to include a spoof of the frozen, spin around fight scene from "The Matrix," it does manage to contain enough funny bits - including, believe it or not, a "Titanic" spoof that's very amusing and not at all related to the "King of the World" bit - to keep things mostly entertaining throughout.

It does seem a bit too bad, however, that the filmmakers unleashed so many funny and clever bits early on but couldn't maintain that momentum and humor stream throughout, thus leaving much of the rest of the film to feel a bit anemic in comparison.

It's not a fatal flaw, and thanks to Murray's performance and some terrifically clever and imaginative material, the film manages to be enjoyable enough to entertain kids and adults alike and thus earn a bit more than a passing grade. As a result, "Osmosis Jones" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed August 4, 2001 / Posted August 10, 2001


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