This `Formula' has been used before

Director Yu wrings laughs from a sniper

Movie Review

October 18, 2002|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC



Formula 51 has the feel of an action-movie relic from the time when "attitude" was such a fresh concept that it could disguise the imaginative bankruptcy of sequences like a wrong-way-on-the-roadway car chase.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as a master chemist in a kilt. The drug-boss villain is Meat Loaf in a caftan. The chemist's reluctant sidekick is Robert Carlyle in a red Liverpool Football Club jersey. The sidekick's hit-woman ex-girlfriend is Emily Mortimer in a little black dress or black leather coat. This way you can tell the major players without a scorecard.

The movie starts when Jackson, hoping to get rich off his brand-new super-drug formula, blows up Meat Loaf in his L.A. lab and flies to Liverpool to sell the formula for $20 million. En route to his goal, Jackson out-duels skinheads, crooked cops, and Liverpool racketeers with some lethal swings of his ever-present golf clubs. He even matches wits with Mortimer, since Meat Loaf - who survived the blast - hires her to capture him.

Director Ronny Yu and screenwriter Stel Pavlou reduce all the supporting characters to comic grotesques in order to alleviate any pangs of conscience the audience may have for reveling in the desperately colorful ways the movie finds to kill them.

I still found it just as hard to watch master sniper Mortimer pick off sitting-duck targets as it was to watch celluloid hijackings last fall. Even without current events, the decadence of Yu's work would have made me cringe: He wrings laughs from the awkwardness of the victims' reflexes and posture.

Despite Yu's reputation as a Hong Kong action director, he reserves his best choreography and timing for a gag involving a hemorrhoid cushion. Screenwriter Pavlou's far-out conceits are too hip to live, especially the hyper Liverpool gangster who vainly tries yoga (he's overplayed by Rhys Ifan, best known in the States as the roommate in Notting Hill).

It has graceful layers and folds and a nice swing to it, and Jackson moves superbly in it. Unfortunately, I'm talking about the kilt, not the movie.

Formula 51

Starring Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by Ronny Yu

Released by Screen Gems

Rated R

Time 92 minutes

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