Secrete Agents


Like a B-12 shot in the ass after hot months of malt liquor and White Castle, Osmosis Jones resuscitates the filmgoing summer with a vital jolt of pure piss and vinegar. A nutritionist’s Inferno, the latest Farrelly brothers comedy actualizes the new century’s most inventive and fertile gross-out concept so far: While zookeeper Frank (Bill Murray) scarfs junk food and burps his way toward record-breaking ill health, his physiology—envisioned as a cartoon city complete with corrupt infrastructure, clogged-artery highways, and polluted outlands—scrambles to maintain systemic balance in the face of constant entropic collapse. (“Incoming shellfish!” is a public-address red alert.) It’s urban-decay business as usual in the City of Frank during a bitter mayoral campaign between William Shatner’s mercenary incumbent brain cell and clean-up liberal protoplast Ron Howard. The unwelcome emigration of an evil, trench-coated virus (Laurence Fishburne) pushes the metropolis into complete havoc.

The glowering, mucus-borne antigen suggests various infamous microorganisms (“I make Ebola look like a case of dandruff!” the virus declaims), particularly since he’s introduced to the body after Frank heedlessly eats a hard-boiled egg that’s fallen into a chimp cage. Light and zippy as it is, Osmosis Jones creates a thoroughly disquieted body state—the melodramatic catastrophes of action films equal the gurgling in your stomach. (Animators Piet Kroon and Tom Sito paint the interior dynamics in charmingly broad, Ren & Stimpy-ish strokes.) The jokes fly like buckshot; you’d have to see it twice just to scan the highway signs, “Rectum: Exit Only” being merely the most prominent. Marc Hyman’s script riffs on mismatched-cop-buddy movies, just as Pixar’s anthill western A Bug’s Life appropriated The Magnificent Seven, and in both films the generous wit lavished on such overlooked mini-systems makes the genre satire feel focused and almost Swiftian. The protagonists in question are the eponymous white-blood-cell border cop (Chris Rock) and a stiff, college-educated antihistamine (David Hyde Pierce), confronting what seems like a normal cold but turns out to be a criminal infection looking to take over Johnny Streptococcus’s sweat-gland mob and break into the hypothalamus.

The movie is terribly amused by the idea of the body’s distant corners—a forehead pimple, a swollen hangnail—turning into festering little East New Yorks due to self-gratifying misgovernment. Metaphorically, the sense of municipal collapse is less present-day Manhattan than EveryCity, U.S.A., after a few years of Dubya: the environment stripped for resources, city centers devolved into cesspools. Expended deportees are herded to the bladder docks and flushed out in a sea of urine; disastrous physiopathological stats are fodder for glib newscasts. Unfortunately, the movie reserves judgment on corporate culture—the very source of Frank’s gluttonous addictions.

Osmosis Jones may be, for the most part, a cartoon (the best made in America since Warner’s The Iron Giant), but not since David Cronenberg’s Rabid has a movie used biological vulnerability to such resonant and anxious profit. The Farrellys’ secretory obsessions (here, a detonating zit is fetishized like a blockbuster fireball) and Cronenberg’s anatomical qualms seem even more clearly fraternal. By the time Osmosis Jones surrenders to the big sleep (in an amazing Ordet kind of way), more than a few viewers will regret their bellyful of Gummi Bears.

Based on her own life, Éva Gardos’s gracelessly constructed An American Rhapsody follows the travails of Margit (Nastassja Kinski) and Peter (Tony Goldwyn), a couple forced to flee Communist Budapest, leaving their baby girl behind. The too-common trauma of having to abandon an infant is just the first tough verity the movie hasn’t the nerve to grapple with. Raised by a loving rural couple, six-year-old Suzanne (Kelly Endrész Bánlaki) is spirited to America and reunited with the parents she’s never known—in ’50s suburban California, no less. Tiny, open-eyed Bánlaki owns the middle of the movie as Suzanne tries to navigate America; in the film’s best scene, she wakes up for the first time in her new tract house, dresses in her peasant uniform, and promptly gets lost in the featureless neighborhoods. But soon, through one clumsy dissolve, the tyke becomes an insolent teenager (Scarlett Johansson), and the generational combat quickly gets dreary and repetitive. Gardos, an experienced film editor, has little narrative sense, and decent performances (except from Kinski, who just worries and huffs around) are left out to dry.

Michael Cristofer’s Original Sin doesn’t even have earnestness going for it—a tepid, blindly assembled post-noir based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1947 novel Waltz Into Darkness, the movie is all posture, cliché, and editing-room Spackle. (Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid used the same novel, and naysayers of that mid-career whipping post should endure this film as a corrective.) As the coffee merchant who marries the preposterously luscious Angelina Jolie and plummets into the typical maelstrom of double-dealing fatale-ity, Antonio Banderas has a few ripe moments of intense self-pity. But Cristofer can’t muster a sense of fin de siècle Cuba to save his life. Quarantined on a studio shelf for a year, Original Sin seems to have been worked over like stubborn taffy, and the wear and tear is painfully visible.