In their previous films, Bobby and Peter Farrelly have employed large doses of bodily fluids and functions to generate their humor. So it’s no surprise that the duo who gave the world There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber would eventually make a film that totally centers around these two linchpins of comedy. And now they’ve done it – made a film where most of the action takes place inside of a human body, albeit in animated form. One might think that the freedom provided by animation and a total focus on phlegm and flatulence might provide The Brothers F with the perfect canvas to make the ultimate juvenile gross-out opus. Well, guess again. Osmosis Jones is a strange hybrid that uses PG-rated restraint and is much less gross than you might expect. It is still primarily for adults – most of the humor is clever wordplay and pop culture and movie references that will whoosh right over the heads of anyone under eight.
There are two story lines. There’s a live-action one that follows Frank (Bill Murray), a widower who works at a zoo cleaning up after animals. The high point of his day is heading home for a diet of cholesterol and beer. Only his heath-conscious young daughter keeps him marginally healthy. Frank’s slovenly lifestyle and attitude has also made him persona non grata with his daughter’s teacher (Molly Shannon) and gotten him banned from an upcoming parent-student hike. He’s trying to keep his relationship with his daughter healthy.
Inside Frank, in animation, Osmosis Jones (voiced by Chris Rock) is a white blood cell pounding a beat in Frank’s mouth. His job is to keep Frank’s innards healthy by keeping watch for nasty germs. A deadly virus (Lawrence Fishburne) shows up and Osmosis has to stop him before he adds Frank to his list of victims. He’s assisted by a well-meaning but straightlaced cold remedy capsule, Drix (David Hyde Pierce).
The external live scenes involving Murray are a minor portion of the story and textbook Farrelly (when someone in a Farrelly film has a zit, rest assured it’s The Biggest Zit You’ve Ever Seen) and, as such, they barely register. The animated world of Frank’s interior makes up 90% of the film, and it’s by far more interesting. And it’s also the wittiest and most intelligent story the Farrellys have ever told, certainly the densest. Frank’s innards and its inhabitants are filled with puns, slams and wordplay, some delivered by the characters ("We’ll just head down to the hemorrhoid and find you a good lawyer"), many in the visuals (Drix is shown carrying a duffel bag labeled "Gonad’s Gym"). There are numerous scenes parodying famous films, from Terminator 2 to Titanic. The interior scenes are even often educational, a label not likely to be applied to any other Farrrelly film; as each area of the body is visited the Farrellys manage to point out a little background on how it works.
But most filmgoers don’t see Farrelly films to be enlightened. And the humor here is definitely a mixed bag. The animated part of the film looks like a 1950s Chuck Jones cartoon on laughing gas, very stylized and colorful. The humor is all in set details, asides, and references to other films and media. There’s enough antics going on in the background to warrant repeat viewings to catch them all. But in and of themselves the two story lines are not particularly entertaining, especially the live one. At a preview screening, adults in the audience were having a fine time catching the satire and takeoffs, but children – especially younger ones – were mostly bored and uninterested.
So Osmosis Jones is an anomaly – a Farrelly Brothers film for people who usually don’t like Farrelly Brothers films. Don’t expect the usual Farrelly broad brush and grade-school animal humor, but instead prepare for acerbic wit and sly asides delivered in rapid fashion. Think of it as Smart and Smarter, or Me, Myself, and a Spleen.
– Bob Aulert