Do you remember being in elementary school and having to watch animated videos about the immune system? I recall germs being compared to criminals and white blood cells being compared to police officers. Evidently someone thought to take this concept and make a full length movie about it. Peter and Bobby Farrelly take their usually body function-inspired humor to a creative extreme in Osmosis Jones (2001) with a mixture of live action and animation.
Frank (Bill Murray) is an unhygienic zoo keeper, and a father of a bright young girl named Shane (Elena Franklin). Frank follows the “Ten-Second Rule” which dictates that dropped food is still safe to eat after ten seconds on the ground. But Frank doesn’t seem to consider the fact that his hardboiled egg had been in a monkey’s mouth and on the cage floor. The egg is crawling with germs, sending “The City of Frank” into a panic. At the Cellular level, we meet Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock), a maverick white blood cell cop working for The City of Frank Immunity Department. Also on the egg is deadly virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne) that begins terrorizing the city. Thrax is intent on becoming the next big viral disease, attempting to kill each new victim faster than the previous one. Meanwhile, Osmosis Jones teams up with a cold pill named Drix (David Hyde Pierce) that Frank took to try to combat his symptoms. They have 48 hours to stop Thrax before he destroys Frank.
Osmosis Jones flips back and forth between live action and animation. The scenes outside of Frank feature comedy actors like Bill Murry, Molly Shannon, and Chris Elliott, all Saturday Night Live alumni. Bill Murry is amazing in everything he is in, and he’s particularly good at comedy. I’m fairly certain that most of the scenes that featured Bill Murry were improvised. He’s amusingly gross and unsanitary. You’ll both cringe and laugh at his performance.
Roughly two-thirds of the movie is set in the fictionalized human body where anthropomorphic micro-organisms go about their business in the City of Frank. This is where the movie really shines. The art style is highly colorful and very creative. The animation looks slimy, goopy, and drippy. The characters move like blobs, rather than figures with a bone structure. The buildings sway and jiggle like gelatinous structures. Everything is just fascinating to watch.
The way the human body is depicted as a city is so creative. Various body parts represent different neighborhoods. The slums of the Lower East Backside, the stomach is the airport with regular departures for the colon, the Mafia hangs out in sweat glands in the armpit, and the brain is City Hall where Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner) is planning his reelection against his opponent Tom Colonic (Ron Howard). Osmosis Jones and Drix gallivant all over the body chasing Thrax, yet the movie graciously avoids adventuring in the genital area.
There is a lot of bodily humor in this movie. In response to an inquiry about the housing shortage, Mayor Phlegmming announces the construction of a third chin. Tom Clonic’s campaign ad promises exercising and eating bran. There’s even a scene when Frank is trying to hide a runny nose which is pretty disgusting. Yet it fits so well into the story and setting.
There are two stories going on here. Are they good? No, not really. It’s a very generic parent and child trying to bond in spite of different personalities and interests. It’s also a very typical buddy cop movie. Neither story does much to set them apart from others of their kind. While the plot is pretty standard and the characters are all common and predictable, the anthropomorphizing of cellular organisms is remarkably imaginative and the dialogue is usually witty.
Osmosis Jones is pretty good for what it is. Most critics seemed to dismiss it for its crude humor. I’m not a fan of crude humor, but I didn’t think it was a drawback. If anything the unconventional implementation of the crude bodily humor made it better. If you’re not too put off by Murray’s scratching and gas-passing antics, you’re in for an imaginative and eye catching tour of the human body. Kids will love the exciting action and the anatomical plumbing jokes and adults will enjoy the fanciful animation of this energetic movie. I recommend seeing Osmosis Jones and possibly buying a copy for your shelves at home; it’s good enough to see more than once.