- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

"Formula 51" aims to be a rollicking monstrosity, anchored by the presence of Samuel L. Jackson as a man with a plan to swindle and exterminate the mob patrons he has been servicing for almost 30 years as a chemical consultant, recently specializing in the development of so-called designer drugs.
Claiming to have invented a pip, called POS 51, the sneaky Elmo McElroy heads for Liverpool garbed in a kilt, transporting a sample case (actually sample bags, since they're disguised as candies) of these ultimate mind-blowers, supposedly foolproof against government party poopers, since the chemical mix is a volatile blend of perfectly legal compounds.
Elmo's big scam might be easier to savor in a marginally polished and rational package. "Formula 51" begins with its potential cool sacrificed to vociferous profanity and explosive carnage. Definitely not the work of smooth operators, the film resembles an obnoxious drunk and becomes an excellent candidate for the sort of ruthless treatment it dishes out to expendable characters, not to mention the wholesale contempt it displays for cinematic finesse.
A movie that might have been worth remembering with a certain fondness because it was the one that put Mr. Jackson in the tartan skirt has emerged as an orgy for knuckle-dragging vulgarians. It will probably be best remembered as the movie that illustrated what it might look like if Meat Loaf were microwaved to death.
Meat Loaf is the first and last of several ranting gangland despots. Nicknamed the Lizard, he has a distaff sniper on the payroll. Called Dakota Phillips, she is impersonated with a high improbability quotient by Emily Mortimer. The opening credit sequence makes a point of showing how Dakota can nail targets with her sniper rifle. As a result, an entire week's worth of authentic assaults in the real world is trivialized in a single teaser in "Formula 51."
Now why was it that 20th Century Fox expressed reluctance about releasing the suspense thriller "Phone Booth," which places Colin Farrell at the mercy of a sniper? Columbia and Sony don't seem to be suffering pangs of conscience over "Formula 51."
The answer is that "Formula 51" is meant to be dismissed as a jocular outrage, so far removed from any semblance of reality that it would be cruel to hold it to even modest standards of responsibility or credibility. The people responsible for "Formula 51" just haven't bothered probably on the sound assumption that the target audience wouldn't appreciate the bother.
Leaving messes could be mistaken for the specialty of director Ronny Yu and his merry pranksters, who rub it in with revolting spectacles of rampant diarrhea in a bunch of hoods and then visceral explosion in the case of the Lizard, whose blood and morsels of gut splatter a luxury suite at a soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester.
As the boss man, Mr. Jackson gets a sidekick: Robert Carlyle as a runty, motormouth mobster flunky in Liverpool. Called Felix DeSouza, he is conveniently linked to Miss Mortimer, since Felix and Dakota used to be lovers. They pick up where they left off, seemingly, by abetting Elmo and cavorting in the tub at Felix's mum's house, which becomes headquarters for the Irregulars.
A rotating series of comic teams is utilized: Mr. Jackson with Mr. Carlyle; Mr. Carlyle with Miss Mortimer and a mob boss played by Ricky Tomlinson and then Anna Keaveney as mum; Sean Pertwee as a tyrannical cop and Michael Starke as his flunky; Rhys Ifans as a drug-dealing nightclub owner and Junix Icocian as his obese black guru.
The Liverpool jokes and types presumably originate with the screenwriter, Stel Pavlou, a homeboy who lays on the regional argot and profanity with a steam shovel. Mr. Yu, a Hong Kong transplant, is an impresario of mayhem without boundaries, so Liverpool and Hong Kong might as well be sister cities. What scurvy taste and mercenary intentions have brought together, let no man put asunder.

TITLE: "Formula 51"
RATING: R (Persistent, exaggerated profanity, graphic violence and vulgarity; episodes of sniping, bombing, intestinal malfunction and evisceration; an interlude of slapstick copulation)
CREDITS: Directed by Ronny Yu. Written by Stel Pavlou.
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

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