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What do you get if you combine Samuel L Jackson with a kilt and Liverpool? Well the answer is British movie, The 51st State. In 2001 Samuel L Jackson decided to start filming in Britain for his latest movie, and I can still remember quite accurately the media hype surrounding his brief stay in Liverpool.  Every day he seemed to be visiting different areas of the city, and the locals appeared to love all the publicity he brought with him. For the movie, Samuel L Jackson teamed up with Robert Carlyle and various other reasonably well known British actors to try and create a different take on what has become a stereotypical British crime flick.

51st State, The
Elmo McElroy (Samuel L Jackson) is an American recreational pharmaceutical expert who has come to England to sell what he thinks is the perfect item. This is a wonder drug called POOS51, which contains a mixture of 100% legal substances. Every dug baron throughout the world would like to set up a deal with McElroy, but he chooses a meeting with Leopold Durant (Ricky Tomlinson), who is one of the main drug dealers in Liverpool. On McElroy’s arrival in the United Kingdom, he is greeted by Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle) who has been assigned to pick up the American from the airport and take him to meet Durant. Felix is a home grown lad who happens to be a Liverpool football fan (good decision!), and can sometimes make rash decisions which he regrets later.

Well that sounds simple enough doesn’t it? However, what McElroy hasn’t told everyone is that he is being hunted by his boss, The Lizard (Meatloaf). Just before McElroy left for Britain he had a little “incident” with his boss and had to make a sharp exit from Los Angeles. The Lizard was understandably upset and decided to hire an assassin called Dakota (Emily Mortimer) to hunt down McElroy and teach him a lesson. Dakota follows her target to Liverpool, but finds that she has old memories she has to deal with before completing the job. To make matters worse for McElroy, he also has the local police chasing him. Detective Virgil Kane (Sean Pertwee) suspects that a big deal is taking place somewhere in the city, and assigns all his time to finding the dealers. Add to that a crazy night club owner and wannabe drug baron called Iki (Rhys Ifans), and it’s easy to see why The 51st State is an entertaining comedy action thriller.

Hong Kong born director Ronny Yu is someone a lot of British audiences will not have heard of. Probably his best known work is The Bride of Chucky, but even that won’t be familiar unless you are a horror fan. Anyway he has done a cracking job with this film, and has recreated a movie not too dissimilar to Pulp Fiction and Welsh movie, Twin Town. Yu obviously has the talent to deal with big action scenes, particularly the fast-paced car scene which takes place towards the beginning of the movie. There are also a few shoot-outs, which are tense affairs and riveting to watch. However, as with most British crime capers, there need to be some funny gags along the way and thankfully we are not let down in that department. The 51st State can be quite harrowing in places, but the timely humorous lines are expertly performed so that audiences should be left laughing instead of grimacing.

51st State, The
Samuel L Jackson bought the screenplay for this movie, so it was no great surprise to see him playing the lead role. The character of McElroy was made for Jackson, and he is given enough opportunities to deliver his powerful lines which audiences are used to. If you liked his character in Pulp Fiction then chances are you should find his hard-hitting sense of humour in this film pleasing. Robert Carlyle puts in a very mixed performance. Especially towards the beginning of the movie he isn’t very convincing, but this may have a lot to do with the fact that he seems to swear almost every five seconds! As the movie progresses, we learn more about his character’s past and this is where his acting experience shows. Other people worth mentioning are Ricky Tomlinson, who stars in his first movie outing since his role in The Royle Family. Tomlinson is amusing to watch and adds humour to scenes which would otherwise have been quite serious.

Most films I have watched recently all seemed to lack a good storyline and character development. It is apparent that this film didn’t have a large budget, but the storyline more than makes up for that, and what follows is a compelling crime movie interspersed with amusing moments. Thoroughly recommended.  

The 51st State is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I didn’t get the chance to catch the movie in the cinema, but this transfer made the wait worthwhile. What struck me from the beginning was the clarity and sharpness of the image. Colour reproduction was also impressive, with colours vivid and true throughout. I didn’t realise that Liverpool could be so colourful! There are not many dark scenes during the movie, but when called upon black levels were solid. Grain was non-existent for the majority of the film and there seemed to be no visible signs of edge enhancements.

Surprisingly we are treated to three separate English soundtracks with this release. Normally two English tracks are evident on region two releases, but luckily we are given a DTS track in addition which is probably the highlight of this disc. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are pounding efforts which typify the atmosphere of the movie. There was very little difference between the two, but the DTS track seemed slightly more natural. The rear speakers are used frequently throughout, with club scenes, car chases and shoot-outs all being portrayed realistically. Effects are spread all around, with even the musical score sometimes getting directed to the rears. Sometimes with loud tracks the dialogue can be lost, but thankfully this is not the case here. Dialogue is clear throughout, and doesn’t become lost in the mix. You won’t be disappointed with this element of the disc, which includes active soundtracks which you will love, but the neighbours will hate!

For a region two release it was slightly disappointing not to find any foreign tracks, but even more surprising was the lack of foreign subtitles. The only subtitles provided are English ones, which might be a sign of who the disc is targeted at. Animated menus, which move around various sections of a lab, are present on this disc.

51st State, The
The first extra on this disc is “The making of’ The 51st State,” which has a running time of about six minutes. Lots of little interview clips are shown, which include the cast talking about their roles and also experiences while filming. The director explains why he was interested in the film, and we also get a brief clip with Stel Pavlov, who talks about the characters being loosely based on his friends from college. The last couple of minutes focus on Samuel L Jackson and the kilt he wore in the movie.

Probably the funniest section on this disc is the production featurettes. There are four in total, which vary in length between thirty seconds and five minutes. The longest featurette is called ‘Who The Hell is Stel Pavlou’. It follows the screenwriter around the set while he asks people if they have heard of him. The funniest featurette in my opinion is ‘Hows do you become a scouser?’ which shows a brief chat between Ricky Tomlinson and Stel Pavlou. Tomlinson talks about how to be a scouser, mentioning that you need to join the ARA (Special Scouser group) and also put on twelve stone like Michael Stark (who happens to be walking past at the time!) This featurette may only last for thirty four seconds but it is very amusing. The third featurette is called ‘Michael Stark, portrait of a thespian’ and shows the ex-Brookside actor in between shoots. It is like a comedy sketch, and the highlight has to be his Jabba the Hut impression, which is creepily accurate! The final featurette is ‘Dug, a script supervisor on the edge’ and is a brief discussion with Dug who is apparently getting depressed shooting the movie. It is supposed to be a funny interview, but turns out to be a little odd as Dug keeps staring at the camera!

Next up are the interviews. There are four in total. Samuel L Jackson, Robert Carlyle, Emily Mortimer and Ronny Yu all talk about their experiences during the movie, and give a brief rundown of their respective characters. The most interesting interview is with Samuel L Jackson, as it is probably the longest. The one disappointing thing about this section is the fact that a lot of the material had already been covered in the ‘making of’ documentary. Also included is a trailer which runs for just under two minutes. The trailer is fast paced with dance music playing in the background, and this is a good example of how active the movie actually is. Unfortunately the trailer shows some of the funnier scenes from the movie, so it is advisable not to watch it before seeing the movie. However, this is an amusing trailer which does a good job of selling the movie

51st State, The
If you are a fan of audio commentaries you will happy to find an audio commentary with screenwriter Stel Pavlov on this disc. Also included is a photo gallery which shows a selection of photos from the movie. This gallery is a little different to ones that I am used to, because you don’t have any control over the pictures. It is more like a featurette, as there is music playing in the background and each picture is only shown for a few seconds. This section lasts for just over a minute and a half. Finally you can also find the credits in the extras section, which are for anyone who wishes to know who was involved in making the DVD.

The 51st State received mixed reviews upon its release, but I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining crime caper which should keep you on the edge of your seat, while making you chuckle at the same time. Another strong performance by Samuel L Jackson goes a long way to creating a British movie which is a little different to previous efforts. The movie is full of fun and attitude, with an abundance of comical moments thrown in for good measure. As for the disc, we are treated to an impressive transfer, but the highlight has to be the soundtracks, which are extensive and immersive. We also get a good choice of extras, with input from all the main people involved with the movie. All in all, this is a DVD which is easy to recommend.