The active ingredients of this failed, quirky, crime actioner seem logical: Samuel L. Jackson, American cinema’s “Bad Motherfucker” and Hong Kong action director Ronny Yu’s (Bride of Chucky) visual adrenaline. But it’s the medium here that’s a mess: Formula 51 is a cheap and mostly ineffective knockoff of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, director Guy Ritchie’s darkly comic and dynamic crime duo.
With the character of Elmo McElroy, Jackson adds unlicensed pharmacist to his arm-long cinematic rap sheet. Elmo tickles the senses of his clients with his designer drugs. He brags that his recent masterpiece combines the effects of cocaine, LSD and ecstasy — only 50 times stronger. He calls it POS 51.
McElroy stages a complex, chemically explosive exit from his relationship with a scar-faced drug lord who refers to himself as “The Lizard” (Meat Loaf in a villainously over-the-top performance). The Lizard’s reaction? “He fucked me. I’m truly ass invaded.” McElroy’s response? “Rest in peace, muthafuckah.”
But The Lizard isn’t resting in peace. McElroy skies to Merry Old England (donning a tartan kilt in the colors of the McElroy clan, along with a bag of golf clubs) for a more lucrative deal with a gang of Ritchie-lite mobsters, only to find himself in the sights of The Lizard’s lovely avenger, Dakota (Emily Mortimer). Can “the chemical brother” survive bloody massacres, car chases, skinheads, soccer fanatics, an ad hoc partnership with mobster Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle, The Full Monty) and English food to live happily ever after on the links?
Who cares? The true irony of this formulaic failure is that the flicks it apes are Ritchie’s English, tweaked-up take on the Quentin Tarantino cult classic that made Jackson a star: Pulp Fiction. Formula 51 is cut with so much third-generation Tarantino that it’s more an entertainment low than a high.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].