Osmosis Jones (2001) — What you never wanted to know about your own body

“Careful boys. I’m contagious!”

PoolMan’s rating: One part kickass cartoon, one part lame PSA.

PoolMan’s review: Didja ever have one of those friends who would notice the similarities between atoms and solar systems and the similarities between molecules and galaxies and didja ever wonder if we’re actually just a molecule in something else that’s really really big and oh my god wouldn’t that make that weird ending tacked on the end of Men In Black TRUE?!? I was that kid. Damn, I was annoying.

The concept behind Osmosis Jones is a pretty simple one. Despite all those science videos you watched in high school about single cell organisms that clearly showed them doing nothing but bumping into one another, it turns out that in every human body is a city made up of all the living cells within it, and these little critters are sentient. Not only sentient, but they elected Captain Kirk as Mayor! The human body in question here is Frank’s (played by a wholly disgusting Bill Murray), and the center of the story revolves around the titular Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock), a white blood cell on the FPD (Frank Police Department).

Frank, who is by every standard a lazy, fat slob who should be dead by now, works in a zoo and looks after his beleaguered daughter. The story begins when a monkey steals his boiled egg, puts it in its mouth, rolls it around on his dung-covered cage floor, and Frank, bright idiot that he is, EATS IT. This introduces Thrax (Laurence Fishburne), a suave but deadly disease who travels from body to body, always trying to kill his next victim as quickly as possible. Team Osmosis with a hilarious cold pill named Drix (voiced by a wickedly fun David Hyde Pierce), and you’ve got a great little buddy cop movie.

There’s a lot right with Jones. The teaming of Osmosis and Drix constantly worked for me. Even though the cliched “by the book officer teamed with a loner rebel cop taking on the criminal mastermind” storyline was torn straight from any number of Lethal Weapon movies, the chemistry between Jones and Drix was refreshingly fun and light, and worked the length of the movie.

The animation style (CGI made to look like hand drawn, a la Futurama) was just great, and suited the complex environments of the various parts of the body incredibly well. The good guys were fun to look at, and Thrax is probably one of the smoothest baddies I’ve seen since Darth Maul. The nonstop bodily puns were EXACTLY my cup of tea, but I’ll warn you, if you don’t find the phrase “I came from the wrong side of the digestive tract” at all amusing, it might get old for you quick. But the attention to detail is quite amusing, and I’m sure biology students everywhere find this movie to be quite hysterical, if not accurate.

The downside of the movie is the live action segments. Although necessary to the story, Frank’s depressing life, woeful daughter, idiotic best friend, and multiple utterly grotesque personal habits make for lousy comedy, and the frequent grossout humour used here was just too much for me. I won’t describe it, I’ll just say there’s parts I wouldn’t watch. This would be fine if the whole movie was supposed to be a grossfest, but it just doesn’t mesh with the awesome fun of the animated segments.

From a technical perspective, the live footage seems to be shot on the same film stock as your average Ernest movie (sorry, Jim), with about the same level of dialogue. Also, it seems that aside from a couple of exceptions, the writers couldn’t find any smooth segues between cartoon and live action, so they stopped trying for any subtlety about it around the halfway mark.

And if all that weren’t enough, it’s filled with some of the most heavy-handed “eat right and exercise” mantras I’ve ever heard. Sure, everyone SHOULD eat right and exercise, but presenting it this way (Frank’s wife died sometime before the movie’s setting, apparently of overeating… it’s not made clear, except that she should have taken better care of herself) only makes the viewer roll their eyes and hope the action gets back to Drix soon. It’s like those old Star Trek episodes with the guys who are half black and half white… “Look! It’s RACISM! This is BAD!” It’s just a waste of Bill Murray’s talent to have him shoveling this public service announcement for as long as he does without exploiting his real comedic chops.

The bad doesn’t outweigh the good though, which is why I can still recommend this to someone and not feel terrible about it. There’s so much to see and hear, you’d miss it if you weren’t paying enough attention. If it worked out its bugs, Osmosis Jones could easily become a pretty cool franchise. You have to work to really like it, but at least there’s something there to like.

Didja notice?

  • The statue of the Founder (of Frank City) is a sperm
  • Chris Rock refers to Brandy’s character (Leah) as “Brandy” on purpose
  • The Arriving list of foods at the Stomach Airport includes “Booger”

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