Not so fantastic voyage

“Nice gut, man.” Chris Elliott compliments Bill Murray in <i>Osmosis Jones</i>.

“Nice gut, man.” Chris Elliott compliments Bill Murray in Osmosis Jones.

Rated 2.0

In their new movie Osmosis Jones, Peter and Bobby Farrelly take on feature animation as well as the old sci-fi chestnut Fantastic Voyage, and they do it in their usual scattershot, gross-out, anything-for-a-laugh-whether-it’s-funny-or-not style.

The title character is an animated white blood corpuscle (voice by Chris Rock) in the body of Frank Pepperidge (Bill Murray, live-action). The film switches back and forth between live-action scenes involving Frank, his daughter Shane (Elena Franklin), and Shane’s teacher Mrs. Boyd (Molly Shannon), and animated scenes inside Frank’s body. The Farrellys directed the live-action scenes, while Piet Kroon and Tom Sito were responsible for the cartoon sequences.

The animation scenes inside the body are the Fantastic Voyage stuff, of course. They are reminiscent of the last episode of Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. They also reminded me of cartoons I used to see in elementary school, where the body’s immune system and other functions were explained in cute, child-friendly terms, courtesy of animators from Walt Disney Studios.

I don’t know if Kroon and Sito ever saw any of those old Disney cartoons. Probably not; they probably modeled Jones and his friends and enemies on television commercials for medications from the old days, before medicine commercials got so damned solemn (“Talk to your doctor about Lipitor … ”). The animation is slick and colorful, with a quaintly witty Jetsons look to it, and Kroon and Sito don’t let any bodily function sight gags slip by unsprung. Among the voices, there’s a lot of comic ability, too: besides Rock, there are David Hyde Pierce as Drix, a time-release cold capsule (grim and implacable as RoboCop); Laurence Fishburne as Thrax, a super-killer virus out to destroy the host body; William Shatner as the brusquely incompetent Mayor of Frank; and Brandy Norwood as Leah, the Mayor’s long-suffering aide and romantic interest for Jones (the details of courtship between a white blood corpuscle and a brain cell are left unexplored).

The problem with Osmosis Jones is simple: there’s no story. Or rather, there are two half-stories that don’t make up a whole plot between them. In the live-action section, Frank is, as you might expect from the Farrelly brothers, a disgusting slob—filthy as an open latrine, with every repulsive habit the brothers’ fecund imaginations could dream up. The plot here has something to do with Frank disappointing his daughter Shane by not going on a class camping trip with her; what he can’t explain is that he’s prevented from going by a restraining order, obtained as a result of his having once vomited on the hapless teacher Mrs. Boyd.

That upchucking, it so happens, was the result of action by Osmosis Jones, who precipitately hit the “Puke” button back then and has been trying to live it down ever since. Because of that hasty over-reaction, nobody believes him now when he suspects the presence of Thrax in Frank’s system. With only Leah and Drix in his corner, Jones sets out to save Frank’s life single-handedly.

The problem with this story is that writer Marc Hyman simply recycles every maverick-cop, turn-in-your-badge-you’re-off-this-case cliche, hastily frosting them with internal-organ gags in an attempt to make the cliches look shiny and new. In the live-action scenes, on the other hand, Frank is such a hopeless boor that we want to call Child Protective Services on him and get the poor girl out of his clutches for good.

The ending is never in any doubt—in their eagerness to gross us out, the Farrellys neglect to build any suspense. Nor do they establish a relationship between Frank and Shane we can care about (family values will probably never be their long suit)—or among any of the cartoon characters, either, for that matter. And in their vulgar visual style, where a festering pimple looks like Mt. Etna about to erupt, they don’t bother to create a match for the high-gloss animation of Kroon and Sito. What we get is two half-baked movies pasted together into one overcooked bore.