After blowing up an American drug syndicate, master chemist Elmo McElroy heads to Liverpool carrying the formula for the world's most potent high in his head. But in order to seal his $20 million deal, he's got to avoid both a top hit woman and a corrupt cop. His new friend and 'fixer' isn't making life easy either.
Bridget Jones' Diary. Four Weddings And A Funeral. Notting Hill. Three British comedies, three imported American stars, three massive box office hits. If there's a winning formula to be found here, perhaps it's not such a secret, after all. Even Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro had to lend their weight to Snatch in order to keep the Lock, Stock wagon rolling.
If the British film industry doesn't want to see itself shrivel up and die, then occasionally it has to look across the Atlantic to increase its punching power. There's no shame in this, particularly not if the movie retains enough cynical humour and homegrown colour to qualify for a "Made In Britain" stamp.
The 51st State has these qualities in abundance, but it's also thinking bigger and acting with more reckless abandon than any movie of the same vein born on these humble shores. For a start, it's got Samuel L. Jackson in the lead. And if you're going to make a laugh-out-loud, graphically violent, crime world comedy thriller, then he already comes with an honours degree from the University of Tarantino. In the world of pissed off, hard-hitting, sartorially cool motherfuckers, Sam's your man. And yes, that's even when he's wearing a kilt.
But The 51st State isn't just a UK wannabe that apes Hollywood. To give its action sequences a bit of flair, the movie looks East rather than West, recruiting Hong Kong maestro Ronny Yu (The Bride With The White Hair) as director. Meanwhile, Stel Pavlou's script is crammed with deadpan Liverpudlian wit, instantly quotable one-liners and more swearing than a Tourette's convention.
Performance-wise, Jackson rules the screen as the "large black man in a dress", while Carlyle (as ever) brings a touch of humanity to a psycho nut job who'd otherwise just be Begbie's Scouse cousin. However, it's the supporting cast that gives the film an off-centre appeal that raises it above its American equivalent. Ifans is energetically over-the-top with a cracking comic performance as one of Merseyside's big-time drug dealers; Meat Loaf (whose character is The Lizard, make of that what you will) again proves (after Fight Club) that the only time he's a bad actor is when Michael Bay is directing his music videos; and an array of local lads - as well as Tomlinson, there's Paul Barber and Michael Starke (Brookside's Sinbad) - mine a distinctive vein of Liverpool humour that goes back to Boys From The Blackstuff.
The 51st State is proof that a British movie doesn't have to be a girlie romantic comedy to be an out-and-out multiplex crowdpleaser. Sure, it gets messy at times, but it's superbly funny, often visually surreal and boasts an absolute screamer of a car chase. If it was yet another crime comedy actioner from the Hollywood stable - another Rush Hour 2 clone - it would do steady business in the States then come over here and no-one would expect anything above or below the ordinary from it. But even with its American star power and Hong Kong pedigree, this is first and foremost a British movie that not only dares to take on the big boys - it delivers.
If anything, The 51st State is guilty of having too many ideas, and many sub plots arent given enough space to develop. But the end result is full-on fun.