Formula 51

2002, Movie, R, 92 mins


A near-parody of hyper-kinetic action pictures with aspirations to cutting-edge style, this cocky, vulgar and very noisy picture revolves around a wonder drug that's synthesized from cheap, untraceable chemicals and delivers a high 51 times better than cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and heroin combined. The story opens in 1971, as newly-graduated pharmacist Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) is cruising in his automobile, puffing a joint and grooving on some funky sounds. The cop who pulls him over isn't down with the do-your-own-thing vibe: "The sixties are over," he snarls, and so is McElroy's future in legitimate pharmaceutical research. Thirty years later, Elmo works for a psycho high-end drug dealer (is there any other kind?) called The Lizard (Meatloaf), who refers to himself in the third person and has the face he deserves. Elmo has developed a killer designer drug called POS-51, but double-crosses the Lizard and blows up his lab on the day the product is to be unveiled. Unfortunately for Elmo, the Lizard survives and sics English hit-woman Dakota Phillips (Emily Mortimer) on his trail. The kilt-clad Elmo, meanwhile, is en route to Liverpool, where he's set up a deal with the sleazy Durant (Ricky Tomlinson): the formula for chemical nirvana in a little blue pill in exchange for $20 million in untraceable bearer bonds. Durant's right hand, volatile Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle), picks up McElroy at the airport, and that's just about the last thing that goes right. The meeting with Durant turns into a bloodbath, a very corrupt cop (Sean Pertwee) wants in on the action and DeSouza hooks up McElroy and a flaky drug lord named Iki (Rhys Ifans), unaware that Iki is Dakota's arms dealer. Dakota is also Felix's ex — though when they were an item she went by the more prosaic "Dawn" — and they've got unfinished business that, needless to say, gets all tangled up in McElroy's business. Director Ronny Yu, who appears to have been trying to catch some of that LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS lightning in a bottle, delivers the non-stop mayhem for which Hong Kong action specialists are famed. But this larky, laddish crime story, which could be described as a romp if it weren't so unrepentantly crude, never manages to get into a groove and swing. Its call out to other pictures (notably the MATRIX-inspired scene in which Jackson gravely proffers a choice of red and blue pills) seem forced rather than hip and high-spirited, and its performances are pitched at headache-inducing levels. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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Formula 51
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