Given the hype and the strength of the cast, I expected big things from The 51st State.
Elmo McElroy (Samuel L Jackson) is a master chemist who wears a kilt and can concoct any drug known – and unknown – to man. He’s in Liverpool to pull off a drug deal that’ll net him £20 million with the creation of “POS 51”, a drug that comes as a small blue pill and can best be described as being all things to all people, since it’s 51 times more powerful than anything you’ve ever tried before.
The deal with local druglord Leopold Durant (Ricky Tomlinson) goes sour when their business is rudely interrupted by a hitwoman, Dakota (Emily Mortimer), who takes few prisoners, but leaves along local chancer Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle) who is actually her ex-boyfriend and the only thing he wants out of it all is two tickets to the forthcoming Liverpool vs. Man Utd game. With the deal going sour, McElroy needs a new buyer – enter the offbeat Iki (Rhys Ifans).
Felix takes the wrong kind of ferry across the Mersey.
Other characters thrown into the mix are Meatloaf as The Lizard, totally pissed off as he was stiffed on an earlier deal by McElroy, Sean Pertwee as the corrupt Detective Virgil Kane and Michael Starke – aka Brookside‘s Sinbad – as his hopeless sidekick Arthur. There’s also a cameo for The Full Monty‘s Paul Barber.
Of the cast, the two leads come off best, but still no-one really seems to be putting in the effort to make themselves seem any different than we’ve seen him before. Jackson just tries to be Jules Winfield from Pulp Fiction, Carlyle just plays the scouse scally, Pertwee grimaces a lot like he’s done before and Starke could easily just pick up a shammy and go back to window cleaning. Rhys Ifans could phone his “wacky” performance in and there’s precious little for Ricky Tomlinson or Paul Barber to do here.
Add to this a script which starts well but falls flat – especially when you realise the truth behind what makes the miracle drug – and even at just over 90 minutes in length, it still feels about 20 too long.
Just what is it with that kilt?
On the plus side, there’s no quibbling about the sound and picture quality. It’s first rate. A clear, anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen image and both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I chose the latter as it’s invariably better, with a number of dance tracks playing loudly, each of which are identified in the subtitles (all films should do this!), in addition to the usual gunfire and occasional explosion.
The extras begin with a 2-minute 16:9 non-anamorphic Trailer, a Making Of which lasts just 6 minutes and features the usual mix of interview soundbites with the cast and crew interspersed with film clips – all presented in the same way as the trailer and longer Interviews with Jackson, Carlyle, Emily Mortimer and the director if you want to hear more about what they have to say, although these only last a few minutes apiece too.
The Photo Gallery is a selection of on-set pictures from the film set to music, but also twisted and turned about, the latter of which isn’t the way to do it. At least it’s 16:9 anamorphic though, but it does last just under two minutes.
Four Production Featurettes (9 mins) talk about becoming a scouser, dealing with Michael Starke, Stev Pavlou, the writer and “Dug, a script supervisor on the edge”. The extras conclude with a feature-length Audio Commentary from the aforementioned writer. All of these are the kind of supplemental material you’ll check out once, but never return to.
The disc just 14 chapters, subtitles in English, while the menus are stylishly animated but silent.
Don’t cross a hitwoman…
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Momentum Pictures
Released: October 7th 2002
Region(s): 2, PAL
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: DVD 9
Director: Ronny Yu
Producers: Jonathan Debin, Andras Hamori, Malcolm Kohll, Seaton McLean and David Pupkewitz
Screenplay: Stel Pavlou
Elmo McElroy: Samuel L Jackson
Felix DeSouza: Robert Carlyle
Dakota: Emily Mortimer
The Lizard: Meatloaf
Detective Virgil Kane: Sean Pertwee
Arthur: Michael Starke
Iki: Rhys Ifans
Leopold Durant: Ricky Tomlinson
Frederick: Paul Barber
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.