Saturday, March 13, 2010

'Formula 51' doesn't work

Formula 51 (2002)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle and Emily Mortimer
Director: Ronny Yu
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Elmo McElroy (Jackson) is a master chemist who has created the ultimate in "designer drugs." After screwing the State-side drug syndicate he had worked for, he dons a kilt and travels to Liverpool, England to sell his formula for $20 million. Here, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and Elmo finds himself on the run from corrupt cops, dimwitted skinheads, and a mysterious assassin (Mortimer) who is intent on gunning down everyone around Elmo. Can Elmo and his one ally--low-rent hood and soccer fan DeSouza (Carlyle)--find a buyer who stays alive long enough to purchase Formula SoM-51?

"Formula 51" wants to be a crime comedy occupying the ground somewhere between "Snatch" and "Pulp Fiction." Unfortunately, it has a confused, messy script, characters who never rise above stupidly obnoxious or being total cyphers, and virtually every attempt at humor is either tired retreads of too-often-seen gags or simply unfunny. And then there's a fact that Jackson spends the whole movie in a kilt, something that the cast and crew seemed to think was the film's comedic highlight, but which is really just mystifying, slightly dumb, and the source of too many bad attempts at humor. There are a couple of mildly interesting story twists and several scenes with some good acting in them, but the bad far outweighs the good in this movie as it rushes from badly thought-out scene to badly motivated action sequence.

There's enough action in the film to keep the viewer entertained, but there are also too many characters in the film who are so dumb that one wonders how they dress themselves in the morning. And they're not dumb in the way they were in "Pulp Fiction" or "Snatch"... they're dumb in an eye-rolling, "okay, the writer thought this was funny and it might be if I was high or drunk, but in actuality it's just stupid" sort of way. There's also the issue of a subplot involving a corrupt cop so blatantly violent and corrupt that he wouldn't even a believable as a character in a film set in some third-world hellhole, let along England. The actors are all good--with Jackson and Carlyle playing nicely off one another--but the weight of the awful script keeps them from really accomplishing anything worthwhile.


  1. I don't know how seriously I could take a film where the lead character's name is "Elmo".

  2. Try considering that Elmo spends the movie in a tartan kilt. Does that help?