The 51st State

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Known as Formula 51 in the United States, this is a 2001 British film about a pharmacologist named Elmo McElroy attempting to peddle the formula for a new drug he's created called POS 51, which he claims is "fifty-one times more powerful than cocaine, fifty-one times more hallucinogenic than acid, fifty-one times more explosive than ecstasy."

When the deal goes wrong and everyone involved ends up dead, he realises that his ex-boss, whom he thought he'd already killed to prevent him seizing the drug for himself, is very much alive and would like revenge. Assisting his boss is the Dawn/Dakota, the expat ex-girlfriend of his British contact, Felix DeSousa. Assisting neither party and trying to help himself is the highly Corrupt Cop Virgil Kane.

Thus McElroy is forced to team up with his British contact and find a way to both survive and profit from the debacle.

Intriguingly, Rotten Tomatoes indicates that more top critics appreciated the film than regular critics, with averages of 50% and 26% being given respectively. The film flopped however, recovering only about half its $27 million budget.

Tropes used in The 51st State include:
  • Arms Dealer: It's one of Iki's many ventures.
  • Britain Is Only London: A notable aversion, as the film's British parts (ie, almost everything) are set entirely in Liverpool, with London not even getting a mention (aside from Arthur calling Kane a "cockney twat")

Felix: Listen to this, I'm in fucking Florida, right. This southern prat comes up and he's like, uh, "Hey! England's small. You must know that John Fuckin' Smith guy, right?" Fucking Smith. I'm like, "oh yeah, yeah mate. That's right. John Smith, yeah, I do know him, but, uh, he doesn't come from England mate, no, he comes from fucking-
Felix AND Frederick: PRICKSVILLE, USA!"

  • Butt Monkey: Arthur is clearly Kane's. He gets revenge in the end
  • Casting Gag: The film's idea was conceived of before Samuel L. Jackson made it big, with Laurence Fishburne being considered for the role of Elmo. See Shout-Out for the gag.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The chemical cocktail McElroy uses to blow up The Lizard at the start of the film. Since he takes the drink intended for Iki, it actually does kill him in the end.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Almost everybody in the cast is liberal with these, but special mention must go to Felix and the Skinheads.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: "Battle" is definitely overdoing it, but when the skinheads square up to Felix in the airport looks like there's going to be a nasty fist fight - a couple of punches and Felix pulling a gun on them puts paid to that.
  • Corrupt Cop: Kane
  • Country Matters: Used casually (though infrequently) by Kane as is typical of the British attitude to the word.
  • Femme Fatale: Dawn appears to be one of these to Felix, which is slightly strange considering there's no noir elements to speak of present.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: The skinheads
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The Lizard's death is shown this way.
  • Heel Face Turn: Dawn, predictably.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Golf clubs being used to batter in the skinheads.
  • Large Ham: The Lizard is a huge one, and sticks out because nobody else (save of course Samuel L. Jackson) comes close. Iki perhaps excepted, but it seems more normal with him.
  • Lost in a Crowd: Kane knows in advance Elmo is flying into London and wearing a kilt. He tells his subordinate to wait at the airport for a dark-skinned man "wearing a dress." It's the henchman's bad luck that just as Elmo arrives, so do several flights from African and Asian countries where men still wear robes, sarongs, etc....
  • Man in a Kilt: McElroy is seen in one for most of the film.
  • Market-Based Title: Known as Formula 51 in the United States. Why isn't exactly clear, but the pejorative connotations of the original title presumably had something to do with it.
  • Not Quite Dead: The Lizard.
  • Oop North: The film's British sequences are all in Liverpool.
  • Pop Goes the Human: The Lizard's (real) demise.
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: An unfortunate miscommunication occurs when DeSousa asks one of his assistants to "take care" of a nervous chemist. The assistant then goes into henchman mode, kills the chemist and stuffs him into the car boot, instead of following the intended meaning which was "look after him."
    • Similarly, Kane was interrogating Durant by the bizarre device of chaining the crook to the underside of a large, heavy piece of machinery held up by a crane. When he told his assistant to let Durant down, the fellow let the whole schmear fall, with Durant still under it.
  • Room Disservice: "That fucking chestnut" - inverted. Room service bring up Durant's sausage n' mash while the drug deal is taking place, and his mooks pull and unsuspecting maid into the room and hold her at gun point, believing that they have been rumbled.
  • Shout-Out/Take That: McElroy offers the skinheads a red pill or blue pill in a combined shout out to the film, Casting Gag relating to the original idea of Laurence Fishburne for his role, and take that to fans who keep mistaking Jackson for Fishburne. Iki also references Goldfinger when explaining that the twenty pieces of paper he has in his hands (bonds) constitute £20 million, since he doesn't want to heft gold bars around. And when Felix realizes that Elmo didn't really swallow the pill he supposedly took, he asks, "All right, Mr. Spock, what'd you do?"
  • There Are No Coincidences: Felix insists that Shit Happens...

Elmo McElroy: No, Shit don't just Happen. Shit takes time. Shit takes effort. Twenty million dollars worth of effort.

    • In other words, your car breaking down just in time to strand you in the middle of nowhere as a snowstorm starts is a coincidence. A twenty-million-dollar drug deal being busted up by dozens of skinheads with automatic weapons just before you close escrow? That's somebody with more cash than he knows what to do with wanting to make your life hell.
  • Third Person Person: The Lizard
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: "Stay down, bitch!" from McElroy to one of the skinheads.
  • Title Drop: The Lizard refers to Britain as the 51st state during his last scene. He detonates messily seconds later. Take that you pompous septic!
  • The Voiceless: The replacement chemist Durant uses, his muteness being due to a bullet in the neck - the same place another one strikes later, killing him.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: A very very brief one, showing that Dawn and Felix settled down together - but only after the game. What happens to McElroy is shown during the credits.