The 51st State (2001)
“Have a Nice Trip”
Director: Ronny Yu
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer
Synopsis: An American master chemist plans to score big on a once in a lifetime drug deal. All does not go as planned and he is soon entangled in a web of deceit.
Sometimes, there’s a reason why people who spend years toiling over a movie screenplay while working in a menial job have their labour of love thrown back in their face by everyone they send it to. It’s a very good reason, and it’s the one why The 51st State should never have been made. We all know what that reason is, so there’s really no need for me to spell it out here, but I will say that The 51st State serves as a useful lesson in what happens when the key players involved in the making of a movie lack any form of discipline. Because this is one major mess of a movie, with direction that’s every bit as chaotic as its script.
Samuel L. Jackson in full on mean, ranting mother***ker mode, plays Elmo McElroy, a promising chemistry graduate whose career ascendancy took a U-turn when he was busted for possession on the day he graduated. Now, thirty years later, Elmo’s the foremost chemist of illicit narcotics who has just perfected a little blue pill that is ‘51 times stronger than cocaine, 51 times more hallucinogenic than acid, and 51 times more explosive than ecstasy.’ Now that sounds to me like one of those drugs you’ll only ever try once because you’ll be incapable of breathing unaided after taking it, but drugs baron The Lizard (Meat Loaf — one of the few enjoyable aspects of the movie) sees a market for it. At a meeting to sell this new product to fellow drugs barons, Elmo blows up all attendees so that he can flee the country without being pursued. Unfortunately for Elmo, Lizard was sitting on a loose floorboard which sent his chair plummeting to the floor below when the explosion occurred, leaving him unharmed and thirsty for revenge.
Lizard instructs British hitwoman Dakota (Emily Mortimer) to follow Elmo to Liverpool in Britain and kill him, in return for which he will wipe clean their slate. But Liverpool is Dakota’s home town and she has a history with small-time gangster Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle), who just happens to be working for the drugs dealer to whom Elmo is negotiating to sell the formula for his wonder drug.
Chinese director Ronnie Yu makes the ill-advised decision to follow the Lock, Stock route of film-making, a decision which merely serves to emphasise just how far short The 51st State falls from the heights reached by Guy Ritchie’s gangster opus. Where Lock, Stock’s energy was invigorating, The 51st States is merely tiresome and annoying. All its characters are self-consciously manic or edgy or cool and not one of them comes across as authentic. Robert Carlyle does his best in the thankless role of Felix, a loud-mouthed scab of a man who, to make matters worse, is a rabid Liverpool fan, but there’s little he can do with such a broadly written role. Emily Mortimer as his love interest is not only woefully miscast, she goes through the entire movie as if she’s painfully aware of the fact and terrified that she will be thrown off the set at any moment.
If you think the image of a gang of skinheads rolling around in agony after ingesting drugs that have caused them to graphically void their bowels is something to laugh at then no doubt The 51st State is the movie for you. For anyone over the age (mental or actual) of 12, this is one to avoid.