I've always kind of suspected Bill Murray was a cartoon on the inside, and "Osmosis Jones" is mighty entertaining proof.
A wildly clever and consistently funny kiddie-fare gross-out comedy (snot jokes galore), "Jones" may be live-action on the outside -- Murray plays Frank, a zoo janitor who gets sick from eating an soft-boiled egg after dropping it in a monkey cage (eww!). But the bulk of the story takes place inside his body, a weird animated world where Chris Rock provides the voice of an impudent white blood cell determined to defeat the virus so he can get himself reinstated to that microscopic police department that is the immune system.
A quintessential Bill Murray performance drives about a third of the plot, following a slovenly, flatulent, fast-food addicted dad whose 10-year-old daughter (great newcomer Elena Franklin) is trying in vain to drag him toward a healthier lifestyle. Directed by the Farrelly Brothers (of "There's Something About Mary" fame), there are plenty of lowbrow laughs -- and even some sincere emotions -- to be had in these scenes. However, it's the seamlessly integrated battle for control of Frank's Looney Tunes innards that makes "Osmosis Jones" such a gas. (Ooh! Call the pun police!)
Colorfully and energetically brought to cartoony life as a biological metropolis with blood vessel freeways and a cerebellum city hall, Frank's body is threatened by the deadly virus (drawn like a demonic rastafarian and voiced as a smooth action-movie serial killer by Laurence Fishburne), which hatches a plan to hijack the hypothalamus, thus raising the body's temperature to lethal levels. (The medical veracity of the plot is surprisingly precise.)
The only one who can stop it seems to be Osmosis Jones -- a translucent, bipedal splotch of jaunty blue-white goo whose career as a corporeal constable has hit the skids because of his often clumsy renegade ways. He was demoted after panicking during an oyster incident, making Frank puke all over his daughter's schoolteacher (Molly Shannon) -- something we get to watch in flashback (eww again, but with a giggle).
Osmosis' police captain doesn't believe his story about spotting a virus on its way onto the body, and the do-nothing mayor of Frank (William Shatner) won't listen, so our hero teams up with a 12-hour cold capsule to hunt down the toxin on their own. The normally pansy David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane on "Frasier") makes a surprisingly effective voice for the over-educated but mostly muscle medication, who is armed to the teeth with prescription ammunition and quite single-minded about doing his job.
Working closely with animation directors Piet Kroon and Tom Sito, the Farrellys blend inside scenes (a nasal dam break causes a mucus flood) and outside action (Murray's runny nose) with comical results. Thanks to writer Marc Myman ("Dr. Dolittle 2" and the upcoming "Bubble Boy"), the picture is also jam-packed with inventive medical allusions. Police cars motor around on little paramecium hairs instead of wheels, Frank's stomach is the body's airport terminal, and a microbe mafia hangs out in armpit saunas and says stuff like "Take this punk to the face and bury him in a blackhead!" Then there's that statue of a sperm in the mayor's office labeled "Our Founder."
Half this stuff will go right over the heads of kids who will be laughing themselves silly from the plethora of gross-out gags. But that's part of what makes "Osmosis Jones" a cut above a lot of other animated fare: There really is a lot of entertainment here for grown-ups, who will likely be torn between snickering or squirming at most of the movie's humor. In fact, the best scene in the movie -- a digital fun-house trip inside Frank's screwy subconscious -- is aimed squarely at the chaperones in the crowd. "This cat was sick before I even got here!" the virus exclaims.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th August 2001
Box Office USA: $12.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $13.6M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 59 Rotten: 49
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: the Farrelly Brothers (live action), Piet Kroon & Tom Sito (animation)
Starring: Chris Rock as Osmosis Jones (voice), Laurence Fishburne as Thrax (voice), David Hyde Pierce as Drix (voice), Brandy Norwood as Leah (voice), Bill Murray as Frank Detomello, Molly Shannon as Mrs. Boyd, William Shatner as Mayor Phlegmming (voice)