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Formula 51

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Formula 51

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle
Director: Ronny Yu
Rated: R
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Meat Loaf, Emily Mortimer, Sean Pertwee, Rhys Ifans

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

We learned from Danny Boyle's movie "Trainspotting" one which the producers insisted did not condone the use of drugs-- that heroin is 1,000 times better that your best sex. For some in the audience, this may not sound like too great a deal. Nonetheless in Ronny Yu's "Formula 51," Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) tones down the hype, telling his prospective buyers that he has put together a drug made with legal ingredients that, in a combination whose formula is known only by him is fifty-one times better than coke, Ecstasy, and amphetamines. "Formula 51," filmed on location in Liverpool, begins with what looks like a one-joke affair (Sam Jackson in a kilt which he wears throughout the story) but Mr. Yu melds scripter Stel Pavlou's drug dealers, an assassin, a millionaire businessman, an assortment of skinheads and a cop on the take into a stunning whole, loaded with laugh- out-loud dialogue, the fast pace that we expect from a director whose specialty is martial arts fare, a particularly appealing performance from Emily Mortimer, an Emily Watson kind of gal acting against type, and some remarkable chemistry among Jackson, Robert Carlyle and the aforementioned Mortimer.

"Formula 51" has a car chase that reminds us of Jean Reno's exhibition in "Ronan" as Jackson's character, not even accustomed to driving on the right side, does just fine pointing a Jaguar against traffic. His Elmo McElroy has the knowledge of pharmacology to blow up rooms and to implode people's bodies, yielding one scene reminiscent of teen gross-out comedy and another that transforms a room into a bloody mess. Stick around during the final credits and you'll find out just why Jackson wears a kilt and how he uses his golf clubs not only for socking it to skins but for putting on the green.

The story opens in 1971 as Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson), driving in California just after his certification as a pharmacist, is busted for drug possession thereby losing his ability to practice his trade. Obsessed for the next thirty years with a desire to use his chemical skills for making big bucks, he happens upon a formula for a blue pill that's so powerful that its users can expect a personal visit from God. Since the asking price for a mere piece of paper carrying the formula is twenty mil, rivals compete for the action, including a grossly evil "Lizard" (Meat Loaf) who hires assassin Dakota Phillips (Emily Mortimer) to kill anyone standing in the way of delivering the pharmacist to him; a cop on the take, Virgil Kane (Sean Pertwee); and McElroy's personal escort, Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle), hired to take him to wacky drug kingpin Iki (Rhys Ifans).

The action moves so rapidly throughout, with several zoom-in, zoom-out shots by cinematographer Poon Hang Sang, that "Formula 51" even squeezes in a hot affair between the assassin and the escort. Characters are sharply drawn: you won't likely mistake one for another. Emily Mortimer shines as the conflicted one, taking the job of professional killer only to pay off her gambling debts to Lizard, but secretly holding the torch for the boyfriend whose heart she broke two years earlier. Obligatory double-crosses are followed by revelations, as Sam Jackson ultimately bares all. Edge fun all around.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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