51st State

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Movie Reviews by Susannah Macklin and Toby White

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer, Sean Pertwee, Meat Loaf
Director: Ronny Yu

Review by Susannah Macklin

THE 51ST STATE is what the Brit film industry has been searching for post Ritchie. It’s what every cinema-goer has been looking for since Danny Boyle became a deserter and left Ewan Mcgregor in the cold for some Hollywood star with a stupid name. It’s the answer to the call for something a little bit cooler, but a little less LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS; a little more hardcore, a little less HUMAN TRAFFIC. It seems ironic then that most of the films this is likely to be compared to were but a twinkle in the celluloid eye when then student/off-licence worker Stel Pavlou first had the idea for the script way back in 1994.

Elmo McElroy (Samuel L Jackson) a master US chemist with as much knowledge of under the counter street deals as over the counter prescriptions, heads to Liverpool, in a bid to introduce a new drug into European rave culture. Once in Blighty, McElroy hooks up with local Liverpool no-mark Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle). The partnership is not an ideal or mutual one, but after a few double deals and undercover cop-outs, the two realise they may have more in common than they first thought. Including more than just a brush with a hit woman who wants them both – but for very different reasons.

Pavlou’s action-comedy has come a long way since his days serving spirits to the public. The script is sharp, as are the many witticisms, which are brilliantly delivered. The total Tarantinoesque-ness of it all married with director Ronny Yu’s action cuts and the scally setting of Liverpool works perfectly. And in these surroundings Jackson is totally in his element as the hard-core kilt wearing McElroy. Although an odd coupling – Carlyle and Jackson totally bounce off each other and teamed with a wickedly snide Shawn Pertwee, all are on top form. It’s a shame then that the only real let down to THE 51ST STATE are the trickles of more dubious casting. Meatloaf is just weak in the role of The Lizard and we feel like we’ve already been down that road with Rhys Ifan as karmic club boy Iki. You might have thought that the casting director would want to stay away from Ifan’s line in ‘oi oi’ up fer it clubbing nutters but Ifan’s Iki could easily have been passed off as a re-imagining (to quote a Burtonism) of KEVIN AND PERRY’s Eye Ball Paul.

This is a great film providing everything Brit and US audiences love in big doses – black humour, violence, cheekiness and a great line in golf swings. It’s fast paced and fun loving. Encouraging kilts as a fashion statement? Maybe so. Creating violence with golf clubs? Quite possibly. Promoting rave culture and designer drugs to youths? Who cares!! THE 51ST STATE is the post-TRAINSPOTTING Methadone dose Brit film junkies have been crying out for.

5 out of 6 stars
Review by Toby White

You know how sometimes you have to be in the right mood to watch, let alone appreciate, a film? Well, I don’t know if it was just me on the day or whether it really stands out as a good film but THE 51ST STATE is…actually, before I go on, let me put you in the picture. With an horrific hangover, a luke-warm Latte in hand and already complaining about hiking out to a town I’d never heard of at what seemed like the crack of dawn on a dire, drizzly Sunday morning, I certainly wasn’t in the mood. This little monologue on my situation probably seems a little out of place in a film review but, to be honest, I’ve been vexed about how best to put pen to paper. So I’ll conclude. By the time I left the cinema, I was a different person. I couldn’t shut up about it. No more headache, no more nausea. I loved it. So imagine my surprise, a few days later, when I overheard a couple in a cafe talking about it and the one who’d seen it considered it one of the worst films they’d seen. There’s no accounting for taste, hey? Mind you, as a critic (or should I say “reviewer” so as to remain impartial) one tries to give an unambiguous and objective critique.

Bugger that. Reader, do me a favour: ignore any bad press you read about this movie. Read the history. Read about how the writer put it together while working in a Kentish off-license, read about how Samuel L Jackson was so into it he offered to produce it for the two unknowns who came up with the idea. If ever there was a film made by people who made the film they would like to see, this is it.

Briefly, Jackson plays a master-chemist who invents a new drug to hit the global clubland. Suppressed by his psychotic criminal mastermind boss (Meat Loaf) he leaves LA for (humour me here) Liverpool, looking for the deal he can retire on. His contact (Robert Carlyle) for his British buyer (Ricky Tomlinson) is a football-loving Yankophobe…I’ll stop there for a second. Picture the chemistry between those two. Okay, so those two pair up to pull off the deal of a lifetime. Hedonistic? Morally dubious? You’d think so but watch all the way to the end and see the pay-off. It’s a real feel-good movie. By the way, if this sounds completely implausible and incongruous, then do what you’re supposed to do and suspend disbelief for 90 minutes and appreciate the fact that you don’t need to know, and you never will know, why Jackson wears a kilt and sports a bag of golf clubs. Just enjoy it.

One would think, after the resistible rise and relieving fall of the British gangster flick (following LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and all its inferior imitations), that yet another would be tiresome. But THE 51ST STATE is so much fun that it simply has to appeal to even the most resistant. The characters are classic: Tomlinson’s pile-ridden mob boss is hilarious; Rhys Ifans’ yoga-loving club drug baron is such a break from the cliche that he’s a delight. And that’s
without mention of Emily Mortimer’s assassin, Sean Pertwee’s bent cop and his inept sidekick, or the skinheads that receive their just desserts. I mentioned incongruity before, and this film certainly is incongruous, but that’s where it works: you’d never imagine such a random scene as Carlyle taunting his Manchester United rivals (thereby flying off on a tangent from the story) in a staple, structured Hollywood movie.

Comparisons to PULP FICTION will surely be made…but wasn’t that a great movie too? As for that couple in the cafe, what do they know…come on, boys, raise your glass…L-I-V, E-R-P, double O, L, Liverpool FC!!

5 out of 6 stars