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Movie Review

Mr. Nice

Capturing highs, lows of real-life drug smuggler

Chloe Sevigny and Rhys Ifans as real-life drug smuggler Howard Marks in “Mr. Nice.’’ Chloe Sevigny and Rhys Ifans as real-life drug smuggler Howard Marks in “Mr. Nice.’’ (Susie Allnutt/MPI Media Group)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / September 9, 2011

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In “Mr. Nice,’’ Rhys Ifans plays the real-life drug smuggler Howard Marks, a Welshman who discovered drugs at Oxford and loved them so much he had to sell them. Ifans looks 20 years too old for the part, and the problem with the movie is it seems so desperate to be made that it barely cares that he spends half of his time miscast.

As for Chloe Sevigny, who plays Marks’s wife, Judy, it’s impossible to be sure that she knows how to do an English accent. She’s a good actress and she’s good with what little she has to do here. But you just wonder whether the movie’s writer and director, Bernard Rose, notices.

The film makes a perfunctory trip through the highlights of Marks’s story, which he put into a memoir. The camera is trying either to capture some kind of realism or replicate a high. Whatever it’s doing, it looks like it’s about to fall off a table or the cameraman’s shoulder. The early going has the distinctly supplementary feel of a dramatic reenactment: Rose uses rear projection, colorless photography, and the studied tics of old British movies.

None of this is terrible. It’s easy to watch, actually. The story moves from Oxford to his rise to the top of the smuggling business and follows his attempts to break into the American market where, in Los Angeles, Crispin Glover runs a seaside paradise flush with women. Marks stages his own kidnapping and attains big-time wealth after stealing the identity of a man whose last name is Nice, like the city, and uses it to up the ante on the smuggling. You can start your stopwatch for the downfall, which includes a couple of trials and the late appearance of the entertaining Spanish actor Luis Tosar, as a drug agent.

It all gets better as it goes. For one thing, Ifans seems more plausible as a middle-age businessman in over his head than as an upstart. But it’s an almost completely expository affair. There’s also David Thewlis, as Marks’s IRA business partner, who gets right down to the business of acting everyone else into next year. I realized I just typed “wobbly, mumbly, bedraggled’’ as if Thewlis comes any other way. Even his penis is put to better comic use than some of the actors.

There are hash dens in which Marks makes out with women who, in turn, make out with each other. There’s too much narration and too many drug-movie cliches. Even one shot of a beautiful dingbat rolling around on a bed of cash is too many.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

MR. NICE

Written and directed by: Bernard Rose

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Chloe Sevigny, Luis Tosar, and Crispin Glover

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 121 minutes

Unrated (nudity, language, lots of drugs)

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