Movies: Mr Nice * *
(18, general release)
Depending on who you talk to, Dennis Howard Marks is either a former kingpin drug dealer who did deals with IRA dissidents and the mafia and once controlled 10 per cent of the world's hashish trade, or a self-aggrandising, pot-head fantasist.
Either way, he spent seven years in an American jail for drug-smuggling, and this British drama is inspired by his international adventures. The trouble with Mr Nice, however, is that it's based entirely on Mr Marks' recollections in a book of the same name, so that one struggles at various points to believe a word of it. This, however, is not the film's only problem.
Rhys Ifans plays Marks, who was born into an ordinary working class Welsh family in 1945, but showed such promise at school that he ended up being accepted at Oxford. Ridiculously, writer/director Bernard Rose asks the 43-year-old Ifans to play the teenage and 20-something Marks, and the results are risible. Be that as it may, Mr Marks arrives at Oxford a shy but curious Welshman, but it's the swinging 60s, and Howard's life is changed forever when he's introduced to the joys of drug-taking.
Marks stumbles into the smuggling trade when a friend of his is arrested in Germany. When Howard goes to visit him, he's told about a Mercedes car full of high-grade hash that's languishing in a car park. Marks agrees to smuggle it back into Britain, and proves so adept at selling on the product that he takes up drug importing full time.
Through his contacts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he begins sourcing high-quality merchandise, and an unhinged IRA fugitive called Jim McCann (David Thewlis) helps him sneak it into Britain. Howard falls in love with a girl called Judy (Chloe Sevigny), gets married and has kids. But none of this apparently gives him pause for thought, and his increasingly high profile makes him a target for international law enforcers.
Mr Nice rattles along fairly artlessly and, while some of the performances are decent enough, it's a pretty clumsy piece of film-making overall. It's shoddily directed, sloppily written, and its lowest moments come courtesy of a disgraceful bit of paddywhackery from Thewlis as the histrionic, porn-mad IRA man. I know the Provos employed some fairly unconventional tactics in their time, but I never heard of them popping green smoke bombs in order to put the fear of God into their enemies.