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Mr. Nice - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Mr. Nice
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: C

Mr. Nice opens with the title character, at this point actually real-life drug dealer Howard Marks, walking to a microphone on stage to tell his story. It's a cheeky framing device that serves as the introduction to Rhys Ifans, as Marks, narrating the story. Within moments, we're taken back to his childhood, in black and white flashbacks.

Never mind the patently ridiculous nature of this man in his early forties playing a teenager (with no apparent touching up of any kind to even make him look young) -- writer-director Bernard Rose does employ a clever way of transitioning to color. Much like Dorothy entering the Land of Oz, it's the moment when Marks is at Oxford and tries marijuana for the first time.

It's too bad Rose takes his sweet time getting there -- and then getting through just about anything else in this movie. This is a biopic that honestly gets a little tedious. In spite of some attempts at stylized old-school cinematography (obvious projection backdrops, deliberately grainy picture) which in the end aren't really that inspired, for such an unconventional story this is some strikingly conventional storytelling. There's very little that sets it apart.

Among the few exceptions are the actors. Ifans is perfectly evocative as Marks (who later goes under the alias of Nice, thereby explaining the title), and Chloë Sevigny, who doesn't get seen nearly enough, is lovely as his wife. David Thewlis (otherwise known as Remis Lupin from the Harry Potter films) plays an amusing, if largely indecipherable, member of the Irish Republican Army who gets caught up in Marks's dope dealing. And if you're wondering where you've seen that long-brown-haired American who's waiting for a huge shipment from Marks -- that's Crispin Glover (George McFly in Back to the Future).

All the actors fully commit to their characters, and to a degree, make them compelling. On the other hand, the editing is not so much sloppy as it's rote, and not as polished as it could be, particularly when it comes to sound. Too much of the dialogue is difficult to catch.

For those who don't know (I didn't), Howard Marks was a Brit who almost accidentally fell into dope dealing, after doing a favor for one of his friends who got taken into custody in another country. Marks leaves England as a young adult for the first time, sort of organically easing out of a perfectly respectable teaching position and into importation of marijuana from Pakistan and Afghanistan. He does have later periods of "going straight," eventually influenced by his wife who is increasingly frustrated by the hassles.

But what makes this an atypical "criminal mastermind" story is Marks's genuinely easy-going nature, which sounds fascinating on paper but doesn't make for very gripping drama. Marks has a couple of close calls, but there are no gun fights or car chases or even all that much tension here. There's just the despair of a family broken apart when the man gets arrested -- again. But even that isn't really played out much. This is Marks's life story, simply connecting one dot to the next, from beginning to end.

Mr. Nice is nice enough, I suppose. It's just not all that exciting.

Rhys Ifans (right) seals a deal with a puff with David Thewlis in 'Mr. Nice'.

Overall: B-
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