It's about a pharmacologist named Elmo McElroy (Jackson) 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, a drug kingpin known as "The Lizard" (Meat Loaf), whom he thought he'd already killed to prevent him seizing the drug for himself, is very much alive and would like revenge. Assisting the Lizard is Professional Killer Dakota (Emily Mortimer), the expat ex-girlfriend of his British contact, Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle). Assisting neither party and trying to help himself is the highly Corrupt Cop Virgil Kane (Sean Pertwee).
Thus McElroy is forced to team up with his British contact and find a way to both survive and profit from the debacle.
This film contains examples of:
- Arms Dealer: It's one of Iki's many ventures.
- Artistic License Chemistry: The utterly impossible titular Formula 51;McElroy: MDMA utilizes serotonin. Opiates, like heroin, utilize dopamine. Like the sensation you get after sex. Amphetamines increase adrenaline. Cocaine gets those synapses in the brains firing really fast. 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.
McElroy: ...the most expensive candy on the market. The drug's a fake, you know. It's bogus. It's what we chemists call a placebo. It's whatever you want it to be. You can run all the tests you want. It will look like the best shit in the universe. But the ingredients, they cancel each other out.
- It's likely that McElroy is just making a sales pitch, but to be able to take a bunch of over-the-counter ingredients and make, well...
- 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.
- Check and Mate: McElroy was expecting to have to kill someone at the soccer game, so he mixed the same little cocktail he used in the beginning to leave his employ with the Lizard — who shows up, drinks it, then shoots Iki repeatedly, screaming, "England ain't nothing but The 51st State!":It will be in 23 seconds. It takes 10 seconds for an imbibed liquid to reach the stomach. It takes the body 81 seconds to heat that liquid to the point of chemical volatility. You have twelve seconds left.
Lizard: (EXPLODES IN A FOUNTAIN OF GORE)
- 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 run at Elmo in the hotel lobby, he quickly finishes them with his golf club.
- Corrupt Cop: Kane
- Country Matters: Used casually (though infrequently) by Kane as is typical of the British attitude to the word.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: "Take a puff on this
- Fake American: In-Universe, Dawn speaks with an American accent when she's actually from Liverpool.
- Fantastic Drug: POS 51, a drug that is 51 times as potent as other drugs.
- 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.
- Game of Chicken: Kane has McElroy and Desouza trapped in an alleyway. They respond by driving straight at him. At first, he charges forward, yelling "Come on, then! Come on!", but McElroy makes it clear that he's not stopping. Kane loses his nerve, stops and gets shoved out of the way by Desouza's car and in front of an oncoming truck for his trouble.
- Gold Fish Poop Gang: The skinheads
- Gory Discretion Shot: The Lizard's death is shown this way... Kind of. The viewer doesn't technically see him explode due to drinking a heat-sensitive explosive cocktail, but one does get to see the resulting Ludicrous Gibs cover the windows of the luxury box, then a walkthrough of the room, and Virgil Kane splattered with liquified Lizard.
- HeelFace 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.
- Man in a Kilt: McElroy is seen in one for most of the film. The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue revealing that nobody knows just why he was wearing it in the first place.
- The Stinger lets the secret out, though: it's the tartan of his ancestor's slavemaster. McElroy buys his title and land with a portion of the 20 million.
- 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.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: When the corrupt cop Kane is trying to track Elmo from the airport, he tells his subordinate to look for "a large black man wearing a dress" as reported by his American contact. Unfortunately for the subordinate, in front of Elroy arrive several Middle Eastern men in thawbs (a flowing robe that resembles a dress), several Polynesians in lava-lava (a long cloth worn like a wraparound skirt similar to a sarong), and several Africans wearing dashiki (a long shirt reaching mid thigh or knee). Kane tells the subordinate to follow them all, who then follows them in front of Elmo.
- Not Quite Dead: The Lizard.
- Oop North: The film's British sequences are all in Liverpool.
- Percussive Pickpocket: Felix does this to Iki's lawyer and takes his car key while still in the police station.
- Prison Rape: Kane threatens Felix with this; "You fuck me and I'm gonna have you on your hands and your knees with your arse in the air, exposing your rusty sheriff's badge, for the next twenty years!".
- Rhetorical Request Blunder: An unfortunate miscommunication occurs when DeSouza 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"
- 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: 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.
- Stock British Phrases: Elmo and Felix have a Seinfeldian Casual Danger Dialog on this;Elmo: So Let Me Get This Straight...; "bollocks" is bad, whereas "The dog's bollocks" is good?
- Talk to the Fist:Skinhead: Felix DeSouza, just the wanker I wanted to deal with!
Felix: Deal with this! (rams his elbow into the skinhead's face behind him)
- There Are No Coincidences: Felix insists that Shit Happens...Elmo McElroy: No, Shit does not 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 a professional assassin 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 in The Stinger.