Sony // 2002 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 4th, 2003
In a world of shady characters and dirty deals, this is just business as usual. Have a good trip.
Those wacky British action comedies seem to be everywhere these days. After the success of Trainspotting and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Hollywood seems very enamored with action movies taking place overseas featuring various British mobsters/criminals/drug dealers/pimps and lots of guns. And now here comes the Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Formula 51 (which Jackson also executive produced). Also starring Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, The World Is Not Enough), Formula 51 revs its engine and gets your high on DVD care of Columbia Home Entertainment.
Elmo McElroy (Jackson) could have had it all. After graduating college with a pharmacology degree, a '60s induced, afro sporting Elmo takes off down the highway to meet his destiny. Unfortunately, destiny comes knocking in the wrong way -- Elmo is picked up by the cops, arrested on drug charges, and his drug license is revoked. 30 years later, Elmo is now one of the best inventors of illegal narcotics. Elmo has come up with POS 51, a new prototype drug that is "51 times more powerful than cocaine and heroin," which is to be sold to a drug lord named "The Lizard" (played with too much gusto by rock and roller Meatloaf). After double-crossing the Lizard and assuming he's been blown to bits, Elmo takes off to Liverpool where he has a new buyer in waiting. Here he meets Felix DeSouza (Carlyle), one of the Liverpool kingpin's henchmen who transports Elmo to the potential sale. In hot pursuit is a mysterious woman named Dakota (Emily Mortimer), who has been dispatched by the Lizard to find and kill -- or keep alive, depending on his mood -- Elmo. The rest of the story involves lots of gunfights, a few explosions, and Sam Jackson in a kilt. Let the mayhem begin.
I'm not the least bit surprised that Formula 51 performed poorly at the box office this past fall. The film is a loud, frantic mess with English accents so difficult to decipher that they might as well be speaking in tongues. In the long line of English/British mobster/underworld movies, Formula 51 is bringing up the rear. Here is a movie that has little plot and about half a dozen main characters, all of whom are mean, stupid, or boring. We're supposed to be on the side of Sam Jackson's character, but how can we root for a guy who sells drugs and says the word f**k six times per sentence? Normally I love watching Jackson rip his way through any movie he's in -- Deep Blue Sea, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Die Hard with a Vengeance...all of these feature grandiose performances by Jackson using his I-don't-give-a-crap attitude. In Formula 51, he seems to be sleepwalking through this role, and in a dress no less. Jackson's surrounded by a decent supporting cast without a good script. Robert Carlyle is smarmy, Emily Mortimer wooden, and Meatloaf -- sporting a scarred face without any explanation -- way too over-the-top for my tastes. Meatloaf would do anything for love, and apparently that includes playing the heavy in poorly done action movies.
Technically speaking, Formula 51 is really a buddy cop movie without the cop angle. Jackson and Robert Carlyle are supposed to be funny, witty guys together. They aren't. The screenplay is by Stel Pavlou, who also wrote...um...oh wait, I forgot, Formula 51 was his first screenplay. After this debacle, I'll be surprised if the guy ever picks up a pencil again. At one point Carlyle and Jackson discuss the linguistic definition of the word "bullocks" during a car chase, but who cares? The answer isn't funny and the question even lamer. I got the impression that the movie was supposed to be humorous, yet none of the gags work. Each character is too obnoxious for their own good. Director Ronny Wu -- best known for the sequel Bride of Chucky and the much anticipated horror showdown Freddy vs. Jason -- has a good eye for visuals, just not storytelling. Maybe if the guy received a well written screenplay he would have something; otherwise, he's gonna be stuck with craptacular messes like Formula 51.
On the flip side of this coin, Formula 51 does include some well staged shootouts and bombastic explosions for the discerning action fan (though if you're watching this movie, you probably aren't too picky, are you?) In between all the unintelligible dialogue and swearing there are moments of pure powder keg adrenaline, then it's back to the boring story at hand. Here's my plea to Hollywood: whenever you find a successful formula, please don't milk it until the titty is black and blue. Let's hope Formula 51 is the death nail in this dying genre's coffin. Amen.
Formula 51 is presented in a very attractive looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Since Formula 51 is a brand spanking new film, I was not surprised to find this transfer in excellent condition. Though this isn't a perfect looking picture (there are a few minor imperfections throughout), overall Columbia has done a fine job with making sure the image is clear and colors/black levels solid and bright.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Hoo-wee! Say what you will about the movie, this mix sports about a billion various surround sounds through both the front and rear channels. Cars screech, bullets fly, and the F-word is discarded as if it were a single consonant. With directional effects at a maximum and hiss and distortion at a minimum (as in, none), this audio mix should please fans in possession of a surround sound system. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Formula 51 crashed and burned upon its theatrical release, so it's no surprise to find this disc void of any meaty extra features. What fans do get is a short Cinemax Special on the making of Formula 51. This brief promo reel includes interviews with Jackson, Carlyle, Mortimer, director Ronny Wu, and various other cast members. There's also far too many clips from the film as filler. Also included on this disc are theatrical trailers for the films Formula 51, Half Past Dead, xXx, Bad Boys, and Snatch.
Formula 51 ends up being a rather uninspired take on a genre that's well past its prime. Sam Jackson should know better. Columbia's work on this disc is very good considering only 78 people saw it in theaters.
Formula 51 is found guilty of being a lackluster British action flick. Sam Jackson is released under the custody of director Renny Harlin.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Cinemax Special: The Making of Formula 51