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Formula 51 (October 18/02)

Formula 51 is a brainless flick that starts out well enough, with its quirky directorial touches and even quirkier storyline, but finally becomes just too overwhelming.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Elmo McElroy, a man who is highly skilled in producing drugs. His latest invention is the titular formula 51, so named because of its potency (it's 51 times stronger than most mainstream drugs, including cocaine). He's working for the deplorable Lizard (Meat Loaf), but decides to take his new invention to England - where he's been promised a buyer willing to pay $20 million. Upon arriving at the airport, Elmo's met by a rough-and-tumble local named Felix (Robert Carlyle) who's agreed to pick up Elmo in exchange for a ticket to a high-profile soccer game. But The Lizard doesn't take too kindly to Elmo's defection (and it certainly doesn't help that Elmo tried to blow up The Lizard just before he left), and has hired an assassin (Emily Mortimer) to kill the man.

Formula 51 is a lot of fun for a while, and director Ronny Yu keeps things light even during darker moments. There are also a lot of surprisingly funny touches, most notably the fate of the first chemist hired to help out Elmo. And as good as Jackson is, this is really Carlyle's show. Like his Trainspotting character, Felix is a guy with a hair-trigger temper - the slightest thing will set him off. It's a great performance, and one that ensures the movie's always watchable (at the very least). And though the film is brimming with characters, it does eventually get to be a little too much and the story goes on about 15 minutes too long.

Still, there aren't many movies out there right now that are as kinetic as this one, which means (at the very least), it's worth the price of admission.

out of

© David Nusair