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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Formula 51 (2002)

"My product is 51 times stronger than cocaine, 51 times more hallucinogenic than acid, and 51 times more explosive than ecstasy. It's like getting a personal visit from God."
- Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: February 02, 2003

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Roberty Carlyle, Emily Mortimer
Other Stars: Sean Pertwee, Ricky Tomlinson, Rhys Ifans, Meat Loaf
Director: Ronny Yu

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, drug content and some sexuality
Run Time: 01h:32m:34s
Release Date: February 04, 2003
UPC: 043396080300
Genre: action comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B-A- D+

DVD Review

I was not supposed to like Formula 51. The film tanked at the box office, and critics called it one of the most incoherent films of the year, the worst role of Samuel L. Jackson's career, and just plain garbage. My enjoyment of the film just goes to show how one should never trust the opinion of a film reviewer. So, before reading on, please take into consideration that, I too, am included in that bunch.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Elmo McElroy, a chemist responsible for creating a psychotropic wonder drug he calls P.O.S. 51. After blowing up his Los Angeles lab and ditching the obnoxious drug lord known as Lizard (Meat Loaf), Elmo flies to Liverpool, England to sell his goods to a drug kingpin named Leopold Durant (Ricky Tomlinson). When his meeting with Durant ends in a haze of bullets, Elmo must rely on a subordinate of Durant's, Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle), to help him find a new buyer for his expensive stash. With Lizard, a hit woman named Dakota (Emily Mortimer), and the London police hot on their trail, Elmo and Felix find themselves in one tight situation after another.

In preparation for Formula, Hong Kong director Ronny Yu had obviously been watching Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino films. Though Formula lacks much of the charisma and allure of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Pulp Fiction, I must give Yu credit where credit is due. His frenetic style is fun and entertaining yet never careens out of control as so many modern action pictures do. The action is intense, the characters are engaging, and the laughs are hearty. Never did I feel as if the picture relied too heavily upon the type of worn out clichés seen in the campy action cheese-fests that audiences have become so accustomed to as of late. The only instance where I felt as if Yu had crossed the boundaries of good taste was a scene involving a super laxative, but this is more the fault of screenwriter Stel Pavlou.

Pavlou is predominately to blame for most of Formula's shortcomings. His screenplay is an exercise in over indulgence, throwing as much high-juiced energy at the audience as is tolerable within a 90-minute time frame. While his story is energetic and his dialogue snappy, he unfortunately forgets to settle down and add the necessary depth and weight to the story and those involved in it. While I enjoyed all of the characters in the film, their relationships felt unnatural. Jackson and Carlyle possess good chemistry with one another, yet the evolution of their kinship feels terribly contrived. The romance between Felix and Dakota is hurried and awkward, therefore it never feels romantic or even sexy. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg in a screenplay that is filled with uninspired character development. Nevertheless, even though I found the story to be a bit unpolished, the film succeeded at keeping me entertained for its duration. I enjoyed Formula 51 from start to finish, and have added it to my list of guilty pleasures.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: I realize that Formula 51 is a low budget film, but somehow this transfer looks just a bit too low budget. While the 2.35:1 widescreen image is anamorphically enhanced, it lacks much of the detail that I have come to expect from recent anamorphic transfers. The entire picture appears fuzzy and grainy, yet not in a soothing film-like way. Overall, it looks as if the film was shot in the early 1970s and cleaned up considerably for home video. Bearing in mind that it was shot only two years ago, the transfer is a disappointment.

Also included is a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer. Filmed using the Super 35 process, this aspect ratio is not quite as bad as one might expect, and makes for an interesting comparison with the widescreen tansfer. This full-frame transfer, however, looks far too TV-like, and is certainly not recommended over the theatrical 2.35:1 image.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Unlike the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio transfer is mighty impressive. The entire soundstage is almost continuously utilized with sounds generating from all directions. The surrounds are constantly aggressive with nearly every sound effect imaginable whizzing by. While somewhat gimmicky, this sense of spatiality offered by the rear speakers adds greatly to the visceral impact of the film. Bass also plays an important and effective role; whether it be the pounding noise of gunshots or the vibrating thump of music in a dance club, the low end is consistently deep and clean. The only disappointment is the slight lack of fidelity. Though not particularly irritating, the soundtrack occasionally sounds slightly compressed and lacking in stamina during the few quiet moments. As for the other 90 percent of the film, prepare for a thrilling audio experience that will put any home theater system to good use.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bad Boys, Half Past Dead, Snatch, xXx
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Yet another missed opportunity in the extras department, Formula 51 has very little to offer. The only noteworthy inclusion is a 15-minute making-of featurette. Unfortunately, this extended EPK contains very little of value or interest, and merely consists of clips from the film interspersed with cast and crew interviews.

The theatrical trailer is also featured in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 sound. This exciting, action-packed trailer suits the film well and serves as a worthy complement to the DVD. Other than these two brief items, however, the disc is bare.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

I will not pretend that this film is any kind of riveting tour-de-force, but I will admit that I was heartily entertained by what most critics referred to as "trash." Anyone who is looking for an action vehicle that is enjoyable and not irritating like most modern day action fare are encouraged to give Formula 51 a rental.


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