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'Formula 51'

Going over the top

Friday, October 18, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

So let me get this straight. The movie "Phone Booth" has been postponed because it's about a rifleman shooting strangers on the street, but "Formula 51" opens with a hired gun masquerading as a wedding guest, climbing into a church bell tower and putting a bullet in the brain of her target across the street.

 
 
'FORMULA 51'

RATING: R for strong violence, language, drug content and some sexuality.

STARRING: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle

DIRECTOR: Ronny Yu

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Dakota (Emily Mortimer) is a crack markswoman who is in debt to a loathsome drug dealer named The Lizard (Meat Loaf), so she must do his bidding. The Lizard also controls the empire distributing the drugs cooked up by Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson), a master chemist whose legit career went up in smoke in 1971 when a cop caught him driving under the influence of illegal substances.

Elmo decides he's going to take his formula for something he calls P.O.S. 51 -- little blue tablets that "are like getting a personal visit from God" -- to Liverpool. He plans to sell the recipe for $20 million, but once in England he finds he's being squired around by a football-obsessed fixer named Felix (Robert Carlyle), has become the target of a crooked cop and, briefly, of Dakota.

"Formula 51" seems as if it's trying to duplicate the gangster caper formula of Guy Ritchie's "Snatch," but its energy, comedy and appealing cast have to compete with a torrent of violence, profanity and sophomoric crudeness that's supposed to be hilarious. See three skinheads, admittedly creatures devoid of redeeming features, writhe on the floor as their digestive systems noisily and grossly erupt. Stop, you're killing me.

Watching "Formula 51" is like going to a party where a couple of the guests are great but where everything else makes you want to flee. First-time feature writer Stel Pavlou provides the twist or comic copout that lets you off the hook for liking the Jackson character. And if that's not enough, you get some bonus nudity courtesy of a well-paid star or his body double.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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