|Formula 51 is a curious little picture that might have its audiences confused as to when they should actually be laughing at the actors on screen. Scene after scene of this movie contains some sort of weird joke that may or may not have been created to elicit laughter from the audience. Hands down, the strangest performance belongs to Meatloaf. Is he annoying? Is he drunk? Or is he on some sort of psychotropic drug? Whatever his malfunction, Meatloaf's performance as a Los Angeles drug kingpin is just too strange to take seriously.|
Even when he's holding a gun, or shooting someone, he just doesn't seem that dangerous. And considering Samuel L. Jackson's master chemist character is on the run from Meatloaf, there doesn't seem to be that much urgency in this picture relating to that part of the plot. But Jackson cannot be faulted on his performance. Though any interaction with Meatloaf is suspect, Jackson is definitely the high point of this film. His performance seems to be humorous when it's supposed to be, and serious when it's necessary. His character comes into contact with a number of weirder than fiction English characters while trying to set up a major drug deal for his one-hundred percent legal rave drug.
Certainly coming in second in the weird character race (after Meatloaf) is a group of four Liverpoolian skin heads who terrorize Jackson's character on more than one occasion. Each of these four actors has a terrible problem keeping the saliva in his mouth. They are more weird than scary, and even when they hold weapons, they're more humorous than they should be. Ryhs Ifans, playing a drug dealer/arms dealer extraordinaire, is also a conundrum of a character. He has several scenes with a large bouncer/guard type where the two attempt to find their centers, charkas, places of serenity in what can only be called meditation sessions.
The kicker is that Ifans's character is the last person on the planet who would ever care about finding his charkas. And the bouncer teaching him to be more in touch with himself has the highest pitched voice in the film, even though he happens to be the largest actor in the movie. His voice is even higher than the female sniper character, "Dakota," played by a very sleek Emily Mortimer. While Dakota is a strong female role, it's hard to care about what happens to her. It's not that she isn't likeable, it's simply that she isn't a very sympathetic character.
And who really cares about Robert Carlyle's character. He plays an errand boy for one of the big drug lords in Liverpool (what a garden spot) and has the most interaction with Sam Jackson's character. Which is fortunate for Carlyle. Because Jackson is the most entertaining element of Formula 51 and Carlyle benefits from their scenes together. Suffice it to say, when Jackson is on the screen, this movie is entertaining. He's the glue that holds this harried production together. While it resembles a Hong Kong action thriller in some respects (with Emily Mortimer's character), it is also a more standard "we're all suffering because we're English" production.
People in English films (this film is about 90% English locations and cast) always have to suffer so much. Even the comedies show how oppressed, poor, or insane English people tend to be. Whether this insanity is the truth is probably a question for debate, but for all this film's American-bashing comments, it doesn't paint the most sympathetic picture of English citizens either. But for all this movie's strange casting, there are a few moments when it becomes genuinely entertaining. Though the laughs might come at the wrong times in certain scenes, but with the film's relatively short running time (minus the credits, this film runs just under an hour and a half), it's not an overly long tortuous experience.
And in point of fact, the myriad whacked out characters that populate this film might be to its benefit. Perhaps this film is better seen as a comedy with a strong action element to it, rather than a straight thriller. The best example of this exists near the beginning of the film when Meatloaf's character is thrown downward into a giant mountain of goo-goo dolls and screams almost unintelligible into a cell phone. Who cares about the epithets he's throwing over the airwaves. The real drama in the scene is the situation Loaf's character finds himself in. This film veers toward a true action thriller in a few of its scenes, but is more appropriate as a slightly comedic film. And the most valuable part of the film is Sam Jackson, who gives a good performance even when wearing a Scottish kilt.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.