The 51st State
"It should be doing a lot of things, but doesn't."

This should be big. It is, but only in relation to what usually limps out of British studios these days. It should make furrows in the entertainment/action field with its $28million budget and it's cool American star. It should be taking Tarantino to task and showing him a thing or two about black comedy and the internecine drug culture.

It should be doing a lot of things, but doesn't. Instead, Robert Carlyle plays second fiddle, Emily Mortimer goes down-market, Samuel L Jackson wears a kilt and Ricky Tomlinson acts the hard man. Every second adjective rhymes with "sucking" and the top cop (Sean Pertwee) is corrupt. What's new? Only that this isn't South Central, LA. It's The Beatles' home town.

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Elmo McElroy (Jackson) is a Californian pharmacologist, working on the wrong side of the law, who decides to make a run for it with his new invention, a blue pill "51 times stronger than cocaine" that has the effect of "getting a personal visit from God." He blows up his lab, with the baddies inside - The Lizard (Meat Loaf) survives - and heads off to Liverpool, where he intends to sell his formula to the local drugs baron (Tomlinson), who sends Felix (Carlyle) to act as minder until the deal is done.

Meanwhile, The Lizard has contacted Dakota Phillips (Mortimer) to take McElroy out. She is many things to all men, but basically a hired killer. Despite her name and professional status in the States, she's a Liverpool lass and, believe it or not, Felix's ex-girlfriend. Small world, you say. A bit like McElroy's Scottish connections. Is that why he carries a golf bag around with him? And wears "a skirt"?

The script by rookie Stel Pavlou is audacious without being grounded in the genre, or to the location. Hong Kong director, Ronny Yu, sets up fun stunts and has a car chase or two, but the violence, especially where guns are involved, is messy. Mortimer, as a hitlady who never misses (she even shoots Carlyle in the bum on purpose during a firefight), is so miscast it's a joke. Although unused to handling high-velocity rifles, she's obviously enjoying herself, but Dakota Phillips is an impossible role, being absurd from the start, and if anyone is going to do absurd intelligently, she will.

Felix is ready to rock, a bantamweight scrapper, more mouth than trousers, perfect for Carlyle except there's nothing more to the guy. Half an hour after leaving the cinema, you've forgotten him. Jackson plays entirely to his fan base. McElroy gives him the excuse to wear the kilt, but as a chilled out black dude from across the pond, he lets his persona lead. What's he doing in a foreign country, where he doesn't know why fried eggs swimming in bacon fat are essential to a Northern diet, or what it is about Anfield that stirs the cockles?

The answer is that Liverpool makes a change from New York. There are no Jewish jokes and Robert De Niro's out of town.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2001
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The 51st State packshot
Sam Jackson in a kilt comes to Liverpool to sell his formula for the new club scene wonder drug.
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Read more The 51st State reviews:

Keith Dudhnath ****

Director: Ronny Yu

Writer: Stel Pavlou

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Nigel Whitmey, Robert Jezek, Emily Mortimer, Meat Loaf, Jake Abraham, Mac McDonald, Aaron Swartz, David Webber, Michael J. Reynolds, Sonny Muslim

Year: 2001

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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