Dir: Ronny Yu. UK/Canada. 2001. 92mins
A lurid, laddish, bad ass romp, 51st State is so primed and pumped up that It's almost laughable. A wild-eyed enthusiasm for the delights of bloodshed, body fluids and expletive-filled banter should hit the mark with a target audience of young males who like their entertainment raw and raucous. Muscular, short term domestic returns seem likely, assuming it isn't overlooked in the pre-Christmas rush. Samuel Jackson's box-office potency and director Ronny (Bride Of Chucky) Yu's reputation should carry it in some international markets although the tacky black humour and outlandish comic strip characters will shade it more towards cult sensibilities than mainstream tastes. Ancillary prospects are potent.
If nothing else, 51st State has a certain novelty value as a relatively big-budget ($28 million), British-based action movie. The culture clash scenario is a tried and trusted formula for smuggling big American fish into a small British pond. John Wayne's two-fisted Chicago cop in Brannigan (1975) and Harvey Keitel's cop in The Young Americans (1993) are prime examples. Here, Samuel L Jackson's master chemist Elmo McElroy is on the other side of the law. After an explosive preamble, he flies into Liverpool to cement a multi-million dollar deal for the formula to a new drug said to be ten times more potent than cocaine. His outsider status enhanced by a fetching kilt and a set of lethal golf clubs, he is soon introduced to the culinary charm of black pudding and the subtleties of the local language. "So, bollocks is bad but the dog's bollocks is good, is that right'," he enquires.
The cool dude centre of a hectic, double-dealing plot, Jackson is surrounded by a gallery of broadly drawn, comic relief locals that includes swaggering, Yank-hating hardman Felix De Souza (Carlyle) who eventually becomes his comrade in arms. There's also Emily Mortimer's hilariously improbable assassin Dakota Philips who is first ordered to kill Elmo and then keep him alive until the arrival of vengeance-seeking nemesis Lizard (Meatloaf). Dakota just happens to be De Souza's ex-girlfriend of course. Then, there's oily gangland boss Mr Durant (Tomlinson), corrupt copper Virgil Kane (Pertwee) and manic, yoga-loving drug dealer Iki (Ifans). Let's not mention the skinhead gang.
Keeping his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Yu serves up this heady, sub-Tarantino/Ritchie brew with all the belligerent attitude one might expect. No stylistic device is ignored as he employs odd camera angles, overhead shots and slow-motion to punch up material that more delicate souls might already consider excessively in your face. The result is energetic, low-rent mayhem with a cast and budget that's rather better than Stel Pavlou's first time screenplay really deserves. In the publicity and promotion for the film, much has been made of Jackson's fashion statement kilt. Anxious viewers will be keen to know that a cheeky closing shot answers the niggling question of whether he is a true Scotsman.
Prod cos: Focus Films, 51st Films, Alliance Atlantis
Int'l Sales: Alliance Atlantis Pictures International
Prods: David Pupkewitz, Malcolm Kohll
Exec Prods: Andras Hamori, Samuel L Jackson, Seaton McLean, Jonathan Debin
Scr: Stel Pavlou
Cinematography: Poon Hang-sang
Prod des: Alan MacDonald
Ed: David Wu
Main cast: Samuel L Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer, Rhys Ifans, Ricky Tomlinson, Sean Pertwee, Meatloaf.