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A sure-fire 'Formula' for disaster

October 18, 2002|Manohla Dargis

Hong Kong action trash meets bottom-of-the-barrel British gangster flick in "Formula 51," an execrable mess that leaves no genre cliche unturned or human body or soul untrammeled. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Elmo McElroy, an American pharmaceutical genius who travels to Liverpool to peddle his latest creation, a drug manufactured from legal ingredients that combines the effects of cocaine, LSD and Ecstasy in one little blue pill. The pill, as Elmo puts it, makes you feel "like you're God," a questionable recommendation that nonetheless soon has all of Liverpool trying to grab a piece of the action, usually by brute force.

Sporting a smirk and a kilt, Jackson has the look of a star marking time on his way to St. Andrews, while the rest of the cast telegraphs the distracted concern of lesser mortals who just want to get paid. Among the talent director Ronnie Yu squanders are British actors Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Ricky Tomlinson and Anna Keaveney, none of whom looks believable whether squeezing triggers or trying to force life into screenwriter Stel Pavlou's inert dialogue.

Pavlou and Yu's contribution to the genre is best illustrated by one scene in which skinheads are overcome by diarrhea and another in which a man erupts after swallowing an explosive, leaving the place covered in what looks like Ragu. Your tolerance for this sort of thing may depend on the pills at your disposal as well as your hunger level.

*

Rated R for strong violence, language, drug content and some sexuality. In general release.

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