FORMULA 51 aka THE 51st STATE
Here’s a movie I always meant to see just because it was directed by Ronny Yu (BRIDE OF CHUCKY), but I skipped it because I never heard a single good word about it. Until the day Paul wrote to disagree with my MUNICH review and then, possibly to avenge me for the review, recommended I watch this one.
Okay, so the movie’s not terrible, it has it’s moments of inspiration, but to me it was a big mess and a little on the cheesy side. When it was over I realized that a better score would’ve gone a long way toward making it more acceptable. Ronny Yu does the whole thing in a goofy, frinetic style and then the cheeseball dance music done by some guy named “Headrillaz” makes it seem like some out of touch commercial trying to be cool.
If I describe what the movie’s about though, it might sound cool. Samuel L. Jackson plays Elmo McElroy, rogue pharmacologist. Batman started when his parents were killed in an alley, and Elmo McElroy started on graduation day 1971 when he was pulled over smoking a joint while still in his graduation robe and lost his right to practice medicine. Skip forward to the 2000s when he works for an overacting Meat Loaf as “the Lizard,” who always refers to himself in the third person and somehow passes as a feared crime boss. He’s supposed to meat with The Lizard and various other kingpins to demonstrate his new super drug POS 51, but instead he sets up a fancy Rube Goldberg contraption to blow them up. (There’s a nice shot of Meat Loaf laying in a giant pile of dolls, maybe a reference to BRIDE OF CHUCKY.)
Elmo heads to England where he meets Robert Carlyle, who is supposed to take him to a chemist and the boss who wants to buy his formula. On the same plane with him is Emily Mortimer as the Lizard’s hired gun Dakota, and this is probaly the first and last time Emily Mortimer will ever play a sexy assassin. At the airport is the villain from MONEY TALKS as a cop trying to catch Elmo.
So he’s kind of like the Willy Wonka of drug pushers. He makes drugs in the form of colorful candy and the things he says about them are impossible – 51 times more powerful than cocaine, made entirely of chemicals that are legal in every country in the world, etc. You know this reminds me of a news story I read yesterday about some hippie candy factory that was busted recently because they were growing pot and using it to make elaborately packaged parody products like Pot Tarts and Rasta Reeses and stuff like that. Isn’t it amazing that there are people who really believe the government shouldn’t fund health care or programs for the poor or save people dying in hurricanes, but they’re okay with their tax money going to militarize cops so they can raid factories that make candy bars and soda for stoners. It’s good to see we’re making the world a better place.
Anyway don’t bother raiding Elmo, his drug is all legal. Not sure why he doesn’t explain that to the cop that’s after him but oh well.
A whole lot of not much happens between the setup and the end, when he goes to sell his formula to Rhys Ifans and confronts the Lizard again. But like I said there are moments. There’s a shootout with a bunch of mobsters where one guy is shooting bad so his own cohort puts him down. There’s some well cast ugly skinhead fucks who confront Elmo in a hotel lobby, and he just beats the crap out of them with a golf club. He even does a little twirl on the golf club just like he did in the Star Wars pictures. Later he faces the skinheads again and I was expecting a good comeuppance but instead he uses chemicals to make them all shit their pants, and there’s a variety of farting noises. Unfortunately that is not a whole lot worse than the rest of the jokes in this thing.
The thing that is good about this movie though is Samuel L. Jackson. I don’t think I have to explain the power of Sam Jackson, you already know about it. He does the full intense yelling treatment and uses motherfucker probaly more than any other role. (The dialogue is pretty bad. Even I started to think Meat Loaf was saying ‘fucking’ too much.) The thing that makes this character stand out from his others is that for no reason at all he wears a kilt for most of the movie. This seems to attract the attention of Emily Mortimer, who tries to look up his skirt while he’s asleep on the plane, and later is underneath him on a ladder.
By now you’ve probaly heard how Jackson signed on to SNAKES ON A PLANE without even reading the script, because he knew he couldn’t pass up that concept. Well on the cheesy making of featurette on this DVD, it seems like this movie was a similar deal. He personally chose Ronny Yu as director and told him “You have to do this movie because I’m wearing a kilt.”
Come to think of it, Ronny Yu was the original director for SNAKES ON A PLANE, but he later dropped out.
When Paul recommended THE 51ST STATE he said that even if I hated it I would have to watch the end to see what happened to Meat Loaf, and sure enough it’s a pretty good death. Makes no god damned sense at all (just like the twist about the true nature of POS 51) but it’s worth watching. Also, the only part I really loved in the movie played during the end credits. In this scene Elmo is sporting a huge afro playing golf at a castle, and he explains that he has used the money he earned in his drug scam to buy the McElroy castle – reclaiming the land of his slave master. Now that’s some badass shit, and if that’s why he was trying to get the money all along it makes the rest of the movie seem more interesting. Then he takes his clothes off and walks off butt ass naked, I didn’t really understand that part.
I guess one thing this shows is that if Sam Jackson ever stops getting good acting roles, he works well in dumb action movies. I think he could do better though, especially with this director. As far as Ronny Yu pictures go I’m afraid I gotta put this one in a class with the one about magic kangaroo people doing kung fu. But I’ve seen worse.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.