Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Apparently back in the late sixties and early seventies there was this completely benevolent Welsh drug dealer by the name of Howard Marks, played in this movie by actor Rhys Ifans, who never did anything to anybody. I mean he sold drugs and stuff by the megaton but it’s not like he was Pablo Escobar or anything like that. Nice guy, family man, business man. It’s just those asshole ‘authorities’ keeping a man down who is trying to make a dishonest buck and make people happy in the process. Assholes.

Ifans narrates the story of the rise and fall and rise and fall of his character from a picked on child in his working class neighborhood, to his stunning acceptance into Oxford. Not that I’m saying anything, but Rhys Ifans as an Oxford freshman may be a bit difficult for some to accept. Hell, it’s all the waif thin, older than he looks British actor can do to sell us on the fact that he’s a forty year old.

Nonetheless, college being the den of experimentation for the lot of us, this is where Howard Marks discovered his love of the Mary Jane. But drug dealing was not in his immediate plan, in fact due to Marks liberal definition of a drug dealer, that being that a drug dealer is merely someone who buys more drugs than they can use, theoretically speaking he never was a drug dealer. In his mind. The mantra of ‘never getting high on your own supply’ is not something that is adhered to by one Howard Marks.

So Marks graduates with his prestigious degree from Oxford and gets a job teaching in a public school until circumstance has him helping out a friend in need… and a legend is born. The thing about Howard Marks, despite his incessant inhalation of the wacky tobaccy, is that the man is brutally intelligent and he has figured out ways to streamline the whole drug smuggling operation, ways folks never ever thought of before. For Howard Marks part of these ways involve using psychopathic IRA operatives, such as his good friend Jim McCann (David Thewlis), or squirmy lawyers like his good friend

Patrick Lane (Jamie Harris), or the occasional, drugged out Hollywood Producer, his good friend Ernie Combs (Crispin Glover). The thing is, particularly when it comes to drug smuggling, not all of these people are your good friends, especially when the dookey hits the fan. Good thing Howard is an undercover MI-6 operative. Not going to get into all of that.

Regardless, all Howard really wants to do is be a good man to his wife Judy (Chloe Sevigny) and their four kids. Oh, and sell drugs. Howard Marks was definitely addicted to selling drugs. That definition he laid on us about a drug dealer just having more drugs than he can use? That was some bullshit. It’s so much bullshit that I may have to run out and read Marks autobiography that this movie is based on because I can’t believe the man would actually say this with a straight face. Hard time for being an international drug smuggler, that being importing more drugs than you can use, will ensue.

Let’s talk about the good things that came out of the theater time spent with ‘Candyman’ director Gordon Bernard Rose and his film ‘Mr. Nice’. For starters, if ever there was a role that an actor seemed almost born to play, then this was the role for Mr. Rhys Ifans. I don’t know what Howard Marks is really like, but if he’s a cool, calm, eccentric who looks like he’s done an awful lot of drugs in his time, then choices one through one hundred for this role would’ve been Rhys Ifans. Despite the fact I doubt he sold anyone on being an eighteen year old college freshman. Or a school teacher. All of the performances were rock solid in this movie, though David Thewlis did seem to get a bit carried away at times. Also, if ever there was a story that needed telling, the story of Howard Marks doesn’t get much richer as far as unbelievably colorful content in concerned.

Thus it is too bad, at least in my opinion, that Bernard Rose did such a haphazard job in delivering this content to his audience. I have no idea what kind of movie ‘Mr. Nice’ is supposed to be because as a film it is literally all over the place, and since the movie has difficulty focusing on anything, it’s was difficult for me to focus on anything. Maybe that’s the point, the inherent nature of drug usage causing the scattering of brains cells, hindering one’s ability to focus. That’s pure genius if that’s what he was going for.

When choosing to tell a story that has as many bizarre anecdotes as the Howard Marks story, the challenge, I imagine, is straddling the line between choosing what to leave in and what to leave out. The frustration I had with the way this story was told, with all of the stuff that was going on, is that it came at the expense of the audience getting know this strange character. On one hand this cat was one of the biggest dope dealers that the world had seen to that point, yet on the other hand was a fiercely devoted family man and a loyal friend. And a really nice guy. But who is this guy? Watching Howard smoke dope at Oxford, in Kabul, in Spain, in Los Angeles was cool and all, but for him to have been who he was, there had to be more depth to the guy than a dope smoker with a decent head on his shoulders. And take into consideration that Rhys Ifans was in virtually every scene in this movie, so creating a sketchy character in a two hour movie dominated by this main character took some effort.

Still, ‘Mr. Nice’ did have its appeal. The story was captivating, while scattershot, and Ifans gave the performance he was born to give. Maybe just a little less dope smoking and cool period music and a touch more about the man in the title, and we’d have a much more interesting film.

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