Wielding a golf club like a samurai sword, Samuel L Jackson strides through a hotel reception smashing seven shades out of a gang of Nazi skinheads. Shoving another swastika-sporting yob to the floor, he barks ""Stay down, bitch!"", hops into a Jag and tears off down a crowded city street for one of the best car chases in years... He's wearing a kilt. The city is Liverpool. This is not your average British movie.
Okay, in a compendium of cool Sam Jackson moments, this sequence isn't a match for the ""did I break your concentration?" gunplay patter of Pulp Fiction, but it certainly puts Shaft in the shade. Jackson was great in Unbreakable, but this is his most satisfyingly "Jackson-esque" role since Jackie Brown in 1997, a part which gives the unquestioned king of cine cool material to match his persona - - suitably profane, full of high calibre one-liners to deliver with that inimitable drawl.
It's not hard to see what attracted Jackson to the project, which he's been nursing for five years. It won't take an ardent cineaste to note the similarities between Stel Pavlou's screenplay - - originally drafted while the first-time writer was working in an off-license - - and the exuberantly violent pen dribblings of one Quentin Tarantino. But The 51st State doesn't feel like a cheap QT rip-off. Pavlou takes a quintessential American genre and infuses it with a British sensibility. Thus you get Robert Carlyle's Liverpool fan only involved in the bloodshed so he can get tickets to a game against Man U; convincing culture clash comedy (""So let me get this straight. `Bollocks' is bad whereas `dog's bollocks' is good, right?""); and `accidental' death due to sheer stupidity (""I said `Take care of him', I didn't mean `Take care of him'"").
Given that the central partnership is formed by two of the best actors around, it's hardly surprising that Jackson and Carlyle work so well together. But there are pleasant surprises in the supporting cast too. At last Rhys Ifans lands a role in a decent film. And Sean Pertwee turns in a surprisingly solid performance as a villainous cockney copper.
There are flaws too - - Lizard (Meat Loaf) is a weak villain, there's not enough Ricky Tomlinson and Emily Mortimer as a professional killer is a bit of stretch - - but The 51st State has one more ace up its bloody sleeve: Ronny Yu (Bride Of Chucky, Warriors Of Virtue) at the helm. His energetic direction is crucial to the suspension of disbelief, and he cuts his way through the relentless action at a furious pace, pumping up the volume and never hanging around long enough to allow any thinking to ruin proceedings. It may have taken a Hong Kong director and an American star, but, at last, the term "British action comedy" is no longer an oxymoron.