Formula 51 (2001) / Thriller-Comedy
aka The 51st State
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language, drug content and some sexuality
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer, Ricky Tomlinson, Meat Loaf, Rhys Ifans
Director: Ronny Yu
Screenplay: Stel Pavlou
Review published December 18, 2001
I'm uncertain as to the reasons why the producers of this film looked to Hong Kong director Ronny Yu (Bride with White Hair, Legacy of Rage) to make this Tarantino-esque screenplay fly, but the results are less than impressive. The 51st State (changed to Formula 51 for the US release), is not just a nickname for England and its growing dependence on the United States, but, in the film, it's also the name of a designer drug supposedly 51 times the potency of cocaine. As a movie, this is a superficially glossy and noisy mess with nothing redeeming about it, save for a terrific performance by Samuel L. Jackson (Unbreakable, Shaft) as another of his trademark badasses.
Jackson plays Elmo McElroy, an American chemist who develops the aforementioned drug and travels to Great Britain to sell the drug's specs for a small fortune. Things get a little dicey, as he has an old foe on his tail, in addition to rival dealers and coppers to contend with, making even the best laid plans hard to stick to.
With some comic players from The Full Monty and Meat Loaf (Blacktop, Fight Club), one would think there might be some uproariously hilarious goings-on. Alas, this is about as wasted a cast of supporting players as I've seen in a film in a long time. Not a single person (save Jackson) is properly cast according to type, with Robert Carlyle (The Beach, The World is Not Enough) and Rhys Ifans (Little Nicky, The Replacements) in particular making the worst examples of tough guys, British-style. When Meat Loaf finally takes center stage, the film sinks to depths one would have thought could not be surpassed, given the large amounts of profanity and (quite literally) fecal matter that already fills up much of the running time.
The 51st State is a loud, filthy, and mentally vacant comic-actioner that offers only a meager chuckle here and there, and a migraine otherwise. It's proof that the formula for making another Pulp Fiction is more than kooky characters and the F-word in every sentence. Forget the Skittles Jackson tries to peddle, you may want to pop a few roofies before viewing this one to insure the memory of The 51st State stops by the time the credits roll.
©2001 Vince Leo