The Killer Inside Him

The Farrellys, fart jokes, the whole shebang

Meet Frank Detorri (Bill Murray), stubble-coated, food-stained, all-American lard-ass; staunch devotee of the megacalorific, hypercholesterol diet; open-mouthed eater; and emitter of toxic, paint-blistering farts and belches that fairly fill the air with apple cores and fish heads. Frank the human slag heap makes Murray's scum-encrusted role in Caddyshack, as the septic greenskeeper Carl, look like a model of cleanliness and restraint. Frank's daughter Shane (Elena Franklin) fears his catastrophic intake of potato chips and Buffalo wings will kill him, but Frank cares even less about himself than he does about everyone around him. Or indeed those inside him. When he scarfs a hard-boiled egg, the camera follows it right down his throat. Suddenly we're in Frank's animated interior, known to its microbe inhabitants as "the City of Frank," a decaying metropolis prey to all the neuroses and discontents of modern mankind. Hitching a ride on the fetid egg is one badass virus (voiced with glee by Laurence Fishburne), a caped corpus-crippler named Thrax, armed with scythelike Freddy Krueger talons that transmit a livid, fatal, orange glow to anything they touch. Thrax wants to top his own career-best record by killing Frank within 48 hours, using an ailment that initially resembles the common cold.

But the body has its defense mechanisms, embodied by Chris Rock's virus patrolman Osmosis Jones, a well-meaning fuckup of a white blood cell seeking to redeem himself from previous disgraces. He's teamed with incoming cold pill Drix (David Hyde Pierce, wonderfully starchy and uptight), a Phi Beta Capsule grad of some "Ivy League petri dish" with a master's in multisymptom relief. Together they're an anti-viral version of the mismatched, inter-ethnic buddy-buddy cop teams overfamiliar to us from 48HRS.to Blue Streak. Thankfully, Rock's and Hyde Pierce's performances, one all hectic energy and arrogance, the other a toothsome compendium of stiff-necked white-guy motifs, lend the material a vigor and poignancy it might otherwise have lacked. The Farrelly brothers have graduated from high-fiber toilet humor to surfing the snot-, slime- and shit-laden byways of the esophagus and intestines—from lavatory pan to alimentary canal—and as a career move, it makes perfect sense for them. This is their excremental version of Fantastic Voyage, and in its animated sections, at least, it stinks up the joint in fine style.

The dysfunctional municipality of Frank is the movie's most impressive feature, a thoroughly conceived Innards City. The brain is City Hall, Tammany-style HQ of the Body Politic, presided over by corrupt Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner), who peddles a destructive, short-termist agenda of feel-good cholesterol benders and "eat-now, shit-later" blowouts to his alienated electorate of microbes and antibodies (the Dubya parallels couldn't be clearer). The city's falling apart ("Caution: Open Cavity!") and is dotted with slums ("the Lower East Backside," the skid-row Bowels and Liver), sclerotic freeway bottlenecks, zit nightclubs serving Whitehead Russians, and microbe-mafia steam baths in the armpits. It's Abe Beame's New York crossed with Matt Groening's dystopian Futurama, rotten from the sewers on up, but magnificently rendered in a combination of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery. The Body as City (and as Society) is a simple, perhaps obvious conceit, but the thoroughness with which writer Marc Hyman and animators Piet Kroon and Tom Sito have created it allows for exhilarating and visually kinetic social satire.

But up top, in the live-action world of Frank and Shane, you get what you expect from the brothers, mainly in the form of "betcha-never-seen-this-before" gross-outs. Mostly, though, it's thin, water-treading stuff—no semen earrings, no grapefruit masturbation and few of the bracing insults one expects (like Jim Carrey's sexist endearments to Renée Zellweger in Me, Myself and Irene: "candypants," "cheese tits" or "my little pussy fart"). Strip away the visuals and you're left with a conventional satire of comedy-thriller story architecture, overlaid with some perfunctory admonitions about eating right and staying healthy. The live-action sections are visually impoverished even by the Farrellys' hitherto lackluster standards, and, notwithstanding Fishburne, Rock and Brandy, as always with them there is a detectable undercurrent of mild racial animosity—the Bowels and Liver teem with the sort of ethnic stereotypes whose animated ancestry extends back to the jive-talkin' pimp crows in Disney's Dumbo. And Murray, so poignant and lovelorn in Rushmore, here gives one of his lazier, Charlie's Angels-type half-performances.

So forget the outside world; for the real action, head for the City of Frank. What goes on inside Murray is both gentler and much funnier than the heavy-handed live-action material. It establishes a sort of unilateral independence from the Farrellys' snot-smeared outer world, making Osmosis Jones for all intents and purposes only one-third their movie, which, for some, will present no great hardship.

Osmosis Jones was directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly; written by Marc Hyman; featuring animation by Piet Kroon and Tom Sito; produced by Bradley Thomas, the Farrellys, Zak Penn and Dennis Edwards; and stars Bill Murray, Chris Rock and David Hyde Pierce. Now playing countywide.

 
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