"Osmosis Jones" succeeds not because it blends animation and live action in a revolutionary way or because it dazzles with computer-generated realism. It works because it takes a great idea and combines it with inventive imagery and the oddball charm of Bill Murray.
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, "Osmosis Jones" has both the irreverent charm and the low-brow humor of its predecessors "There's Something About Mary" and "Me, Myself and Irene." But somehow the brothers hold the story together, despite the unfunny Chris Elliott, the slightly out-of-place Chris Rock and some crude, if cleverly stylish, animation.
The live action portions feature Murray as Frank, an intolerably lazy and slovenly single father to his daughter Shane (Elena Franklin). The health-conscious Shane is always trying to convince her father to eat right, but Frank is content to sit around with his buddy (Elliott), shoveling anything and everything into his own mouth as we can all too plainly see during the animated sequences depicting Frank's insides.
Amidst those insides, Rock voices Jones, a cool cop in the form of a white blood cell. Out to prove he is qualified to fight the germs invading Frank, Jones teams with Drix (David Hyde Pierce), a Drixenol cold pill designed to fight a sore throat. They end up tangling not just with flu germs but with Thrax (Laurence Fishburne), a deadly virus out to bring down the whole "city of Frank," while the city mayor (William Shatner) is content to sit around planning his reelection against his rival, Tom Colonic (Ron Howard).
Just as osmosis is the passing of fluid through a membrane until there is an equal concentration on either side, so too does "Osmosis Jones" keep the story flowing while creating a balance between its live-action and animated sequences, which are completely different in style and mood but somehow complement each other. The live action seems anything but that at times, as Murray stumbles around stuffing his face. But just as those segments are wearing thin, the film turns back into a buddy cop picture, with the hip Rock and the professional yet embarrassingly square Pierce bantering around one-liners, some of them surprisingly witty, thanks to writer Marc Hyman.
No one element dominates the film, and that is what both saves it and makes Rock, a performer who demands the full attention of the audience, seem upstaged. Pierce is funnier, Murray is more engaging, and the fascinating visual journey through the human body is more imaginative. Rock's character gets the title role, but we become more involved in the battle to save Frank because of Frank himself and the crudely drawn yet wildly inventive organism that animation directors Piet Kroon and Tom Sito have created.
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