A scene from 'Formula 51'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 92 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, October 18, 2002
Directed by Ronnie Yu

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer, Rhys Ifans, Meat Loaf, Sean Pertwee


A throw-away imitator. Rent "Snatch" or "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" instead.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 02.04.2003


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Jackson plays another tough guy in goofy attire in humdrum action-comedy that's about as fresh as a microwave dinner

By Rob Blackwelder

The title of "Formula 51," couldn't be more appropriate for this perfunctory action-comedy, seeing as its cobbled together from at least that many formulaic plot points, formulaic action sequences, formulaic catch phrases, formulaic jokes and suffers from formulaic casting.

Samuel L. Jackson recycles his stock bad-ass persona for his starring role as a kilt-wearing, golf-playing, corn-row-sporting disgraced pharmacologist named Elmo, who has created a new rave drug that's allegedly "51 times stronger than cocaine, 51 times more hallucinogenic than acid, and 51 times more explosive than ecstasy."

After double-crossing his drug kingpin boss (Meat Loaf in a completely inept bad-guy performance), he's off to England to sell the concoction's chemistry to a higher bidder. But complications arise in the form of traitorous partners, crooked cops and a sweetly sexy assassin on his trail, all of which lead to many stale, hackneyed car chases and shootouts.

Plundering shamelessly and defectively from the Guy Ritchie playbook ("Snatch," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels") for his milieu, director Ronnie Yu (another Hong Kong prodigy who has sold out) offers up 10 times more soundtrack than plot and allows his actors to showboat and chew scenery like rabid dogs (scruffy Rhys Ifans of "Notting Hill" fame makes a particular nuisance of himself as a hyperactive drug dealer).

Yu puts minimal effort into staging flavorless, slow-motion, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action sequences (Jackson beats cartoonish skinheads with his golf clubs) that feel about as fresh as a microwave dinner, and, perhaps because his grasp on Western humor is tenuous, often spotlights the screenplay's feeble, plebeian humor.

"Bollocks!" curses soccer hooligan and mob errand boy Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty," "Trainspotting") as Jackson scrapes up his Jaguar driving through a narrow alley during a car chase.

"Dog bollocks?" cracks Jackson.
"No, just plain bollocks!"
"No dogs involved?"
"No, just plain bollocks!"

This is screenwriter Stel Pavlou's idea of clever repartee.

While not inane enough to be galling, "Formula 51" simply feels like a humdrum paycheck project for everyone involved. Everyone, that is, except for the beguiling, willowy Emily Mortimer ("Lovely and Amazing"), who turns her delicately pretty, pouty features into a convincingly deadly instrument as the girl assassin, without losing an ounce of her innocently alluring charm.


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