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Published: Friday, 10/18/2002

Formula 51: Stars' efforts are wasted in ho-hum action-comedy

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's so ordinary.

Formula 51, starring Samuel L. Jackson, has many faults, but that's the worst.

It would be easier to take the profanity-saturated dialogue and the gratuitous violence if there were some originality, or at least a nifty payoff at the end. But no, Formula 51 includes a resolution so ordinary, the breakneck speed of the action doesn't even disguise it.

The only element of interest is that Jackson doesn't get the girl.

And speak of bad timing. One of the characters, the aforementioned girl, is a sniper. A very good sniper. Her name is Dakota or Dawn, depending on whether she's in America or England. Movies about snipers aren't likely to bring in the crowds these days.

Formula 51 is about a designer drug, one developed by Jackson's character, Elmo McElroy. He's a nice guy who never got a chance to practice pharmacology legally, thanks to a state trooper and a stash of marijuana on his graduation day 30 years earlier.

Elmo and Dakota (Emily Mortimer) work for the same guy, the Lizard (Meat Loaf), and they're both getting sick of it. They don't know each other, but when Elmo decides to strike out on his own with his formula, the Lizard decides that Dakota should get him back.

Elmo heads to Liverpool to meet a new buyer, but things don't go as planned. He's met by Felix (Robert Carlyle), a soccer fanatic who hates Americans and messes up everything he touches. He's also the ex-boyfriend of Dakota, who is following them.

Formula 51 bears a great resemblance to Snatch, a Guy Ritchie movie from 2000. It, too, had massive profanity and botched deals and coincidences and lots of blood. But Snatch also had an underlying playfulness, and it made audiences laugh even as they were appalled. Formula 51 does not. There are laughs, but they are orchestrated and forced.

The cast gamely tries to make its movie better than it is, and Jackson and Mortimer succeed most of the time. It's always fun watching Jackson work, and Mortimer has enough sass to make her character credible.

Carlyle is badly served, however, and the talent he showed in The Full Monty and Trainspotting is tucked away behind a foul mouth.

Formula 51 has car chases, assassination attempts and successes, and some gags that long ago lost their humor. It might be an acceptable way to pass time on a rainy afternoon, but wait for the video. It's not worth even the matinee price.



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