Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Osmosis Jones (2001)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - He's One Cell Of A Guy!

He's a new strain of hero. He's one cell of a guy. He's Osmosis Jones! This infectiously funny live-action/animated caper kicks off in the "real" world as Frank (Bill Murray) ingests a villainous virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne). Now, deep inside the spectacular, animated inner realm of the City of Frank, it's up to a maverick white blood cell cop named Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock) and his reluctant sidekick Drix (David Hyde Pierce) to thwart Thrax's epidemic of evil!

Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Cast: Chris Rock, Laurence Fishburne, David Hyde Pierce, Brandy Norwood, William Shatner, Ron Howard, Bill Murray, Molly Shannon, Chris Elliott
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9; Audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround; Subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single-sided, dual-layered; 12 chapters; rated PG; 95 minutes; $24.98; 11/13/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Animation Directors Tom Sito and Piet Kroon, Producer Zak Penn, and Writer Marc Hyman; HBO First Look Special; Behind-the-Scenes Featurette; Deleted Scenes; Trailer; CD Sampler.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A-/B

Three years ago, the Farrelly brothers - Peter and Bobby - were on top of the world. With There’s Something About Mary they created a new trend in gross-out humor they’d already explored in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber and 1996’s Kingpin. However, after multiple imitators like Saving Silverman and Joe Dirt crowded the multiplexes - and flopped - the seemed to be dead.

2001 hasn’t been particularly kind to the Farrellys. Early in the year they produced another flick in this genre, but Say It Isn’t So totally tanked at the box office and with critics. The Farrellys put out two of their own directorial efforts as well. As I write this, Shallow Hal has found a modest audience, but it hasn’t exactly produced Mary-esque results; after three weekends of release, the film had earned a good but unspectacular $55 million.

At least that distinctly topped the results of their other 2001 flick, Osmosis Jones. The combination of live-action and animation failed to excite audiences, and the summer release grossed an extremely anemic $13 million. Geez - I think the Harry Potter movie made that much in it first 15 minutes of release!

Despite their names on the marquee, Osmosis actually doesn’t seem to be the Farrellys’ baby. As I’ll discuss further when I get to my plot synopsis, the film features both live-action and animated sequences, though the latter dominates the flick. During the DVD’s supplements, we hear some vague discussion about the origins of the Farrellys’ involvement, but the story never becomes clear. My impression is that the project was already well under way when they stepped in for the live-action sequences. I got no sense whatsoever that they did anything on the film other than the “real world” bits; it seems that the animated scenes were totally under the purview of that particular team.

Do the separate sequences fit together well? Yeah, sort of; the filmmakers were able to blend the different elements fairly cleanly from a technical point of view, though some computer animated human pieces looked a bit silly. However, the disparate nature of the two sets of directors led to a difference in quality, as the animated parts were decidedly more engaging than the human ones.

In Osmosis, we meet Frank (Bill Murray), a single Dad slob whose life went downhill when his wife died and he lost a good job. Now he performs grunt work at a local zoo while he tries his best to raise daughter Shane (Elena Franklin). Actually, that should probably be the other way around, as Shane seems to exert a lot more effort toward getting Frank into shape than he does with any parenting; his heart’s in the right place, but he lacks the will power to do much of anything.

Frank’s poor physical conditioning leads us to meet the stars behind the show, all of the various elements within his body. They represent citizens of the world of Frank, as led by Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner). There’s a whole world at work inside Frank’s body, and it takes a lot of work to keep them operating. There’s even a police force, of which white blood cell Osmosis Jones (voiced by Chris Rock), is part.

However, Osmosis is a bit of a renegade, and that doesn’t always sit well with his bosses. After he causes a mishap during one routine maneuver, he gets stuck with a minor detail to accompany a new cold capsule named Drix (David Hyde Pierce) on his mission. While he does so, Osmosis sees something mysterious and scary, as a deadly new virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne) appears on the scene. Unfortunately, Drix ices the only bacterial witness to the newcomer, so Osmosis has to work harder to find the interloper as well as convince others that there’s a real danger afoot.

Basically the film follows dual plots they interconnect at times. Osmosis tracks the new virus and tries to eradicate it, while Frank attempts to maintain positive relations with his daughter. She wants to go on a school-related nature trip, but he’d rather head to upstate New York for a Buffalo wing festival. Eventually, his health becomes more of a factor, and that’s where the two sides more closely intertwine.

Nonetheless, Osmosis often really did come across as two different films. Again referring to the supplements, I got the impression that the Farrellys took a fair amount of liberties with their material and left it up to the animated side to make it all fit. Actually, I’m sure they weren’t quite so cold and cavalier about their end, but it still sounded as though they made many changes that necessitated lots of reworkings from the animated end.

That would be fine if the material merited it, but unfortunately, the live-action side of the coin was fairly dull. Despite the presence of Murray, Molly Shannon as Shane’s teacher Mrs. Boyd, and Chris Elliott as his friend and co-worker Bob, the “real-world” scenes rarely rose above the level of “mildly watchable”. Murray seemed bored and uninvolved in the proceedings, possibly because the material with which he had to work was fairly weak. We found some of the usual Farrelly gratuitous gross-out gags but little else to make the experience engaging, and the live-action scenes usually felt like filler.

Happily, the animated shots were enjoyable enough to make Osmosis more interesting. I won’t go so far as to say they save the day, but at least they allowed the movie to become reasonably compelling. A lot of cleverness was afoot in these segments, as they seemed consistently creative and inventive. I don’t know how funny all of it was; the comedy appeared mildly amusing but didn’t exactly have me rolling in the aisles. Still, the material was interesting and fun enough to keep me with the film.

Some solid voice acting also helped. On the slightly negative side, Rock seemed a little flat as the title character. To be sure, he wasn’t bad in the role, but he didn’t really imbue Osmosis with much personality. Still, he offered a likable presence, and I had no strong complaints about his work.

Much better, however, were the other two main voice actors. Fishburne provided a wonderfully cool and evil presence as Thrax; this was one virus we really took seriously, as the performer made the germ wicked and charismatic. Pierce didn’t stray far from his usual mild-mannered personality, but that tone worked surprisingly well for the enormous and powerful Drix. The discrepancy between the capsule’s physical presence and his tame voice may sound lame, but it seemed fun, especially because Pierce didn’t play it up in any obvious ways. He made the part seem natural and gave the lines a great deal of life and personality. Pierce was easily the best thing about the movie.

All in all, Osmosis Jones was a decent piece of work, but not one that stood out to me. Part of the problem stemmed from the dull and bland live-action sequences, none of which seemed very interesting or entertaining. The animated parts appeared considerably more engaging, however, and they allowed the film to become reasonably enjoyable. I’m not wild about Osmosis, but I found it to offer a fairly fun experience at times.

The DVD:

Osmosis Jones appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Warner Bros. continued their string of solid DVDs with Osmosis, as it offered yet another terrific picture.

Sharpness consistently looked crisp and concise. At no time did I discern any concerns related to softness. The movie always came across as detailed and accurate and it seemed nicely distinct. A few concerns with jagged edges and moiré effects appeared at times, however; those were really the only issues I had with the transfer. Print flaws seemed to be totally absent, as I detected no signs of grit, speckles, nicks, grain, marks or other defects; this was a clean and fresh image.

Throughout the live-action sequences, colors appeared solid, but the hues really came to life during the animated scenes. The live-action world stuck mostly with an accurate and clear naturalistic palette, while the animated shots allowed for much more vivid and vibrant tones. The colors always appeared clear and bold, and they showed no signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns; they were a consistent treat to watch. Black levels also came across as deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but not excessively dark. Overall, this was a fine image that seemed consistently satisfying.

Also excellent was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Osmosis Jones. As with the picture, the audio during the live-action sequences went with a more naturalistic tone, whereas the animated scene benefited from greater artistic freedom. (Actually, who’s to say those bits weren’t natural as well? I don’t know what it’d sound like inside someone’s body, though I’m well acquainted with my own exterior bodily noises.) The portions of the film from the microbial point of view provided a very active and engaging soundfield. The entire movie showed good presence and stereo separation for the music, but the effects became more involving during the animated shots. All sorts of bodily blurps and blops popped up from the sides and the rears, and elements moved from place to place neatly. The presentation provided a “you are there” atmosphere to a solid degree, though it kept from becoming excessively disgusting; honestly, I don’t really want to know what it’d sound like inside some dude’s body, so this brisk and vibrant mix will happily remain my only experience.

Audio quality appeared strong. Dialogue consistently sounded warm and natural, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music came across as bright and clear, as the score provided good fidelity and nice dynamics, including nice low-end reproduction. The effects were still the best elements of the track, though, as they appeared believable and clean, with strong clarity and no sign of distortion. Bass response seemed excellent throughout the movie, as those tones appeared deep and tight. In the end, Osmosis Jones offered a very positive piece of audio.

The DVD release of Osmosis Jones packs some decent supplements, and we start with an audio commentary from writer Mark Hyman, producer Zak Penn, and animation directors Piet Kroon and Tom Sito. All four were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Although it ran into some problems along the way, overall I thought the commentary was a fairly informative and entertaining affair.

On the negative side, a few too many blank spaces occurred during the track. Osmosis is a short flick, and one would think that four participants should have been able to fill all the spots. In addition, a bit too much of the piece told us how good the work was; it never collapsed into a serious case of happy talk syndrome, but the self-congratulation got a little heavy at times.

Nonetheless, I did learn a nice range of information about the film. Some technical details received attention, but much of the good parts addressed changes that took place over the years. Compared to the original plan, it sounds like Osmosis was very different as released, and the participants covered some of these alterations. However, it would have been good to find out more about the Farrellys’ involvement; apparently they entered the project late in the game and made substantial changes.

I liked the light and jokey tone heard. Penn especially provided a funny and glib presence that made even the less compelling parts of the track more entertaining. Overall, the commentary was generally good, but not a classic.

Next up is an HBO First Look Special about the movie. Hosted by actress Brandy Norwood, the documentary runs for 14 minutes and five seconds. Like virtually every other entry in that series, this one combines lots of film clips as well as a few shots from the set and interviews with participants. In the latter category, we hear from directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, actors Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Laurence Fishburne, David Hyde Pierce, Norwood, William Shatner and Molly Shannon as well as animation directors Sito and Kroon, art director Steve Pilcher, animators Ricardo Curtis, Richard Bazely, Wendy Perdue and Dean Wallins, and writer Marc Hyman.

Despite the length of that roster, in reality the show offers little more than a very general overview of the process. We learn a lot of basics about the movie’s characters and stories and also get a smidgen of good information about the production, but this piece clearly exists to tout the flick. As such, expect lots of vagueness and not much rich information.

One oddity about the HBO special: during the end credits, we see parts of the “Kidney Rock” performance from the movie. However, no audio accompanies this! Very strange.

The next program follows along the same lines. A Behind the Scenes piece, this five-minute and five-second clip concentrates a little more on the voice talent. We see some of the same kinds of elements as in the HBO special and hear from Norwood, Pierce, Shatner, Fishburne, Rock, Shannon, Sito, Kroon, Bazely, producer Zak Penn, and CGI animator Adam Dotson. A few new bits of information appear, but this snippet doesn’t give us much addition detail. It’s watchable and moderately interesting but not very detailed and useful.

More compelling are the DVD’s Deleted Scenes. We find three of them, and they last five minutes and 50 seconds in all. They focus primarily on animated sequences and usually extend existing bits. Most of the artwork is finished, though some pencil work remains. In any case, I liked the three clips and thought they were interesting additions to the package.

In addition to the film’s trailer, “Choose a Foul Scene” from the Main Menu offers an unusual way to access certain sections of the movie. There we find a photo of Murray with lines pointing to nine parts of his anatomy. Pick any of these and you’ll get some cutesy notes about the area plus the option to jump to a scene that relates to the body part. It’s nothing too exciting, but it’s a fun way to focus on scenes.

I don’t know if all future pressings will include it, but my copy of Osmosis tossed in a Bonus CD Sampler. This disc features full-length songs from Sugar Ray (“Disasterpiece”), P.O.D. (“Satellite”), and Willa Ford (“Ooh Ooh”) as well as snippets of tunes from Craig David, Ray J, Little T and One Track Mike, Nappy Roots, and Invertigo. It beats a kick in the head, I suppose.

For DVD-ROM users, Osmosis adds some links. We find connections to the Warner Bros. “Special Events” page as well as WB Online. In addition, we can head to the movie’s original website, learn about the studio’s latest releases, and sign up for “Movie Mail”, a feature that will contact you with new WB information.

At best, Osmosis Jones offers some good animated action and comedy. However, generally weak live-action sequences undermine it and make the end product less than stellar. Still, it has enough going for it to be generally enjoyable. The DVD provides very solid picture and sound plus a reasonably decent roster of extras. In the end, the movie is too inconsistent to merit a strong recommendation, but fans of somewhat irreverent and satirical animation might want to give it a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 68
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