In The 51st State after three decades of experimentation, pharmacologist Elmo McElroy (Samuel L Jackson) creates the perfect drug: POS-51. Orchestrating a bomb plot to kill his boss, The Lizard (Meatloaf), he heads to Liverpool for a date with gangster Leopold Durant (Ricky Tomlinson) and a $20 million payday, more than The Lizard was offering.
Thanks to his new bodyguard, Felix (Robert Carlyle), Elmo avoids a gunfight with an assassin sent by The Lizard – who survived the bomb – but he’s also on the radar of corrupt cop Virgil Kane (Sean Pertwee), who tortures Durant to death, forcing Elmo to find another buyer. Local gangster Iki (Rhys Ifans) looks ideal, but can he be trusted?
Cinema loves a rags-to-riches tale, and while McElroy’s journey is great entertainment it pales compared to the story of the film’s writer. Stel Pavlou worked in a London off-licence, writing in his spare time. After sending his 51st State screenplay to Tim Roth, the Reservoir Dog politely declined but forwarded it to his friend Jackson, who signed up and kick-started production.
Pavlou’s inspirations are obvious – Quentin Tarantino – and wholly relevant to his leading man, whose sense of fun, style and menace make the transatlantic journey intact. The addition of Carlyle and Tomlinson produces that other kind of chemistry and led to speculation, sadly unfulfilled, that Jackson had agreed to a cameo in The Royle Family.
Ronny Yu brings energy to the project, allowing the actors to enjoy the action and overcome the occasional liberties of plot and character. Together they judge the audience’s tolerance spot-on, having Ifans declare ‘I’m even getting on my own nerves,’ and keep this pyrotechnic panto on the road.
Also known as Formula 51.
Canada – UK | 93 minutes | 2001
Director: Ronny Yu
Script: Stel Pavlou,
Robert Carlyle as Felix DeSouza
Emily Mortimer as Dakota Parker
Samuel L. Jackson as Elmo McElroy
Angus MacInnes as Pudsey Smith
Paul Barber as Frederick
Sean Pertwee as Detective Virgil Kane
Terry O’Neill as Deckhand
Rhys Ifans as Iki
Anna Keaveney as Shirley DeSouza
Paul Broughton as Anfield Commissionaire
Stephen Walters as Blowfish
Nigel Whitmey as L.A. Highway Patrol
Meat Loaf as The Lizard
Ricky Tomlinson as Leopold Durant
Michael Starke as Arthur
Mac McDonald as Mr. Davidson
Michael J. Reynolds as Mr. Escobar
Junix Inocian as Mr. Ho-Fat
Jake Abraham as Konokko
Aaron Swartz as Mr. Yuri
David Webber as Mr. Jones
Nick Bartlett as Trevor
Robert Fyfe as Hector Dougal McElroy
Robert Jezek as Priest
Joan Campion as Hotel Maid
Marc Anwar as Pharmacist
Sonny Muslim as Boy in Plane
Barbara Barnes as Boy’s Mother
Christopher Hunter as Lawrence
James Roach as Grimtooth
Ade as Omar
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