The 51st State

A few years ago English films were nothing more than foppish period dramas and foppish comedies. After the success of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a slew of clones followed. Some hit the mark and other missed, but the violent gritty nature of the Brit crime caper really took hold. The latest offering is The 51st State, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Carlye.  Written by a British screenwriter, Stel Pavlou, who penned the story whilst working as a manager in an off-licence in Kent. Afterwards, having convinced Samuel L. Jackson with his first draft, Pavlou has since given up his day job to pursue a lucrative career in Hollywood. The $27 million budget was produced (executively) by Jackson too, and was green lighted on the strength that Jackson would be acting alongside British talent such as Ryhs Ifans, Ricky Tomlinson as well as Carlye. The film also gives the British Film Industry better profile by being filmed mostly onset in Liverpool and showing that the UK is capable of more than the aforementioned foppish costume dramas and comedies. The movie has been picked up by Screen Gems, a division of Sony Entertainment, which should give it a huge boost across the pond, once the Sony marketing machine rolls forth.

But to the film itself; Jackson is Elmo McElroy, a hip American pharmacist, barred from practising by a very unfortunate incident back in the sixties. McElroy is basically being kept as a prisoner by drug baron The Lizard, played with relish by Meatloaf, to produce designer drugs. McElroy formulates a designer drug called POS 51, a drug so powerful it is 51 times more powerful and more receptive than Speed, Ecstasy and Crack. On top of that, it is made completely from ingredients available from any high street chemist, making the new wonder drug totally legal and very cheap to produce. After a little ‘misunderstanding’ between McElroy and The Lizard, resulting in the Lizard being blown up, McElroy heads to England. He had previously brokered a deal with Liverpool drug baron Durant, played by Ricky Tomlinson with great energy (Especially humorous is the fact that his one of Durant’s henchmen has to place a pile-cushion down quickly, before he sits anywhere). The deal between McElroy and Durant is for a mere $20 million.

On arriving at the airport McElroy is met by Felix De Souza (Robert Carlye), who is just there to get McElroy to the meeting with Durant in exchange for tickets to the Liverpool-Manchester United match.  The trouble starts when it turns out that the Lizard survived the explosion and hires a sexy assassin, Dakota, to take out McElroy, and added to that a corrupt police officer, Virgil Kane, wants in on the action too. Double crossings and mayhem ensue, with McElroy and De Souza desperately trying to stay alive and broker a deal with just about anyone that can afford $20 million. Further complications arise when it transpires that Dakota is De Souza’s ex-girlfriend, forcing her to question which side she is on.

Ronny Yu directs this quirky masterpiece, proving why his reputation as one of the best Hong Kong action directors is justified, especially with a car chase standing out as one of the best filmed in England. Ridiculously entertaining, filled with flair and orchestrated action pieces, the movie really hits the spot. Samuel L. Jackson is ultra hip as always and is the epitome of cool, wearing a kilt through the whole movie for the sole reason that it makes him look even cooler. Robert Carlye plays his role with a touch of humanity but mainly for laughs, even walking into a pub in Manchester wearing a Liverpool shirt, just to torment the Man U fans on the way to the airport. The on-screen chemistry between the two main leads oozes right off the screen. The remainder of the cast are no slouches either, Ricky Tomlinson is hilarious as the pile-suffering Durant and Rhys Ifans, as a rival drugged out drug dealer excels too. Emily Mortimer is very sexy as Dakota, the killer for hire, but Sean Pertwee as the corrupt and very confused police officer, Kane, is great to watch as everything is spiralling out of control around him.

The 51st State is packed with all the right ingredients and for once in the right proportions; action, car chases, shoot-outs, romance and comedy. It also features one of the grossest diarrhoea scenes ever filmed, yet one of the funniest too. Even with a Hong Kong director and American star, the film is a full-on British movie that shows Hollywood you need more than special effects to make a good film, you need style, flair and panache. Oh, don’t forget to stay for the credits, lest you miss a naked Jackson on a golf course, don’t ask why, just do it.

SCORE 8/10