In Ronny Yu’s fun but disposable Formula 51 (a.k.a. The 51st State), ex-hippie Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) goes to Liverpool to hawk his $20 million P.O.S. 51 formula. His sales pitch goes something like this: “My product is 51 times stronger than cocaine, 51 times more hallucinogenic than acid and 51 times more explosive than ecstasy.” The opening scene features Jackson butting heads with a Los Angeles highway patrolman back in the ‘70s before flashforwarding to the present. Yu and cinematographer Poon Hang-sang make great use of the 2.35:1 format and truly evoke the look and feel of the film’s many milieus. The punchy soundtrack also carries its own weight, a cool mix of Headrillaz breakbeats and modern rock anthems including P.J. Harvey’s “Good Fortune.” Though certainly less starved for attention, Stel Pavlou’s screenplay is both derivative of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Once Elmo hits the “Liver-fucking-pool” rave scene, even Go comes to mind. There’s no real conviction for pop culture in Formula 51. As in Pulp Fiction, this awareness is reduced to a matter of hipness. The references are cute (see the blue-pill-red-pill shout-out to The Matrix) but Pavlou doesn’t take them to the next level by trying to grapple the politics of “watching” Jackson. In at least two or three sequences, Jackson allows himself to be reduced to the role of angry black man and welcomes Pavlou’s cheap racial jokes. “Can’t a brother just deal some god damn drugs!” asks Elmo when the British police invade a prissy club lord’s rave factory. That’s 10 minutes before he threatens to drop Mortimer from the top of the factory and the size of his dick is inexplicably referenced. Mad props, though, for Meat Loaf getting blown to pieces.
- Screen Gems
- 92 min
- Ronny Yu
- Stel Pavlou
- Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Ricky Tomlinson, Meat Loaf, Emily Mortimer, Jake Abraham, Mac McDonald, Michael J. Reynolds
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