The Austin Chronicle

Formula 51

Rated R, 98 min. Directed by Ronny Yu. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer, Meat Loaf, Jake Abraham, Mac McDonald, Rhys Ifans, Ricky Tomlinson.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 25, 2002

There's much debate going on regarding which is the worst of the current cinematic train wrecks: Guy Ritchie's remake of Swept Away or this Guy Ritchie knockoff directed by Ronny Yu. The smart money's on Yu; at the very least Ritchie's film (which has yet to play Austin) has the rock-solid acting chops of his wife, Madonna. Formula 51, on the other hand, has Samuel L. Jackson in a kilt, Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting's sociopathic Begbie) in a Cooper Mini, and Meat Loaf in a pile of doll parts. You'd think at least the Cooper would be interesting, but no, it's not one of the new, shiny ones after all. Like the film it (briefly) stars in, it's a dodgy and backfiring affair, noisily grinding its gearbox on a quick trip to oblivion. Formula 51, which was executive-produced by Jackson, would rightly be labeled a Quentin Tarantino rip-off if this were 1994, but the world of Guy Ritchie's Cockney hooligans and gangsters has since supplanted the Pulp Fiction director's ambient coolness. Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch parlayed his talent for East-Ender dialogue and hyperkinetic camerawork into something resembling a coherent style, and while those two cinematic blunderbusses were just short of classics, they were immensely entertaining slabs of Brit-pop fun. Yu, who directed the terrific The Bride With White Hair back in his native Hong Kong (as well as the way-above-average Bride of Chucky stateside) gives it his all with Formula 51, but the film is a messy, incoherent disaster from the get-go, chock-full of big explosions and bigger egos, but with barely any plot to speak of. Fans of both Ritchie and Danny Boyle films will have a modicum of fun playing Spot the British Character Actor, but anyone over the age of eight not weened on BMW Web commercials and bereft of Ritalin will be dumbfounded at just how plain bad Formula 51 can be. The plot has American renegade pharmacology ace Jackson designing a super party drug and then high-tailing it over to the U.K. to sell it to the highest bidder. Things go bad, things go bang, and before you can say, “Didn't Rhys Ifans play more or less the same character in Twin Town?” Jackson and newfound buddy Carlyle -- who, poor guy, only wants to score tickets to the big Manchester United/Liverpool FC game the next day -- are dodging bullets from a femme fatale hitwoman on a motorbike and … you've seen this before, haven't you? Familiarity breeds contempt, mate. The script, from Stel Pavlou (which sounds like my own personal anagram but -- I swear -- isn't) is a muddled mess of bad-lad clichés, and Jackson's obvious talents only serve to point out how godawful everyone else seems to be.

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