Every once in a while, Hollywood comes out with an action
film that manages to keep viewers on the edge of their seats
by successfully mixing action, suspense, comedy, and romance.
Formula 51 is not that film. I imagine the pitch meeting
went something like this: “Put Samuel L. Jackson in
a kilt, ship him to England and toss in some drugs. People
will pay $8 to see that!” The sad thing is, they’re probably
right. People will pay $8 to see that, but half an hour into
Formula 51, most will wish they had their money back.
Formula 51 centers around an American chemist, Elmo
McElroy (Jackson) who develops a one-of-a-kind drug that’s
51 times more powerful than anything else on the market. The
drug, POS 51, is guaranteed to give a high so strong it’s
like getting “a personal visit from God.” Thus, McElroy heads
to England with plans to sell his new wonder drug to the highest
bidder. However, when the plan turns disastrous, McElroy finds
himself stranded in Liverpool with a reluctant new partner
(Carlyle) and a leather-clad assassin turned guardian
angel (Mortimer). Mayhem quickly ensues, throwing the
trio into a tangled web of double-crossers, lies, and deceit.
Formula 51 is just another classic example of a group
of great actors stuck in a not-so-great movie. Jackson, Carlyle,
and Mortimer do the best they can with what they’re given,
but even their considerable talents aren’t enough to save
this convoluted plot. The cast of supporting characters pursuing
McElroy and Co. serves as more of an annoyance than anything
else. Ifans is irritating as a potential buyer and
Meat Loaf is laughable as a villain aptly named The
Lizard. The gritty Liverpool setting does help to set the
film apart from others of this genre and provides for a few
laughs and jabs at British slang. Yet, for every forgettable
laugh the film offers, it provides an even more forgettable
action sequence and even manages to toss in a few scenes that
I wish I could forget.
Formula 51 strives to be a smart, funny, thrilling
action film but never quite makes it there. At best, it’s
a good movie to rent on one of those cold, rainy nights when
you’re bored. Very bored.