Episode 31 - The 51st State

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The 51st State, also known as Formula 51, tells the story of an L.A. chemist who invents a revolutionary drug and tries to use his formula to get out of his life of crime and start a new life in England. Instead, he ends up in the company of a football fanatic while chased through much of Liverpool by a female assassin, a corrupt policeman, skinheads, and his former psychopathic boss, as he tries to adjust to the local cuisine.

Released in 2001, The 51st State is a Canadian-British co-production starring Samuel L. Jackson as Elmo McElroy, the aforementioned creator of the new wonderdrug. The film opens with a brief introduction of our main character's backstory, and then we immediately move on to the explosive dark humor that characterizes the movie, quite literally. We get introduced to Dakota Parker, played by Emily Mortimer, a professional assassin specializing in long-distance kills who, in her debut scene, performs a hit from the bell tower of a church with a sniper rifle while posing as a bridesmaid from the wedding taking place at the church.

And then along comes The Lizard, a psychopathic drug lord played to perfection by Meat Loaf, who displays all the characteristics of a classic 80s psycho villain. When Elmo gets on his bad side and flees to England, he sends Dakota after him to take him out. The only problem is that Elmo ends up teamed with Felix DeSouza, a Liverpool football hooligan played by Robert Carlyle, who happens to be Dakota's ex and is described as a "rabid dog" by one of the characters. Add to this a group of skinheads, a local eccentric drug dealer called Iki, and corrupt police officer Virgil Kane, all of whom want in on the expected profits of Elmo's formula. Chaos ensues in the streets of Liverpool much to the displeasure of all the characters, but much to the pleasure of the audience.

The movie is a fun joyride from start to finish. It is every bit the sort of dark comedy we cherish on this site. The action shifts between brutal and hilarious, much of the death scenes are played for laughs (especially the one that involves an umbrella), and both sides of the Atlantic get ridiculed just fine. Several characters are over-the-top hilarious in how extreme their personalities are. Examples include Iki who takes his eccentricity to epic levels in pretty much every scene, Detective Kane with his overplayed bullying of his own partner, and of course The Lizard, who has clear anger management problems and shoots one of his henchmen in the knee with his own gun barely 5 minutes into the film.

The 51st State doesn't come with a lot of shootouts but the few we do get are truly memorable, and all of them involve Dakota. She comes across as a strong female character in many ways and is easily one of the best characters in the movie. We also get a brief but phenomenal car chase that leads into a scene in which Samuel L. Jackson drives a Mini Cooper in between two trucks.

At release the movie fared well in the UK with critics and audiences alike. For some reason, the U.S. wasn't too keen on it, with most critics hating it and the movie not faring well at the box office, either. Needless to say we completely disagree with the U.S. reception and highly recommend The 51st State. It's a fun flick made for people who enjoy movies like Pulp Fiction, The Way Of The Gun, or Snatch. Fans of Manchester United will probably have a hard time rooting for the heroes though.

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