Biopics about subjects who are still alive, always seem to have two directors, rather than one. Namely, the officially designated filmmaker, then the subject himself lurking about in the shadows, and without whose legal consent the screen portrait could not have been made.
Then of course, there’s always the unrecognized disclaimer, that humans never conceive of themselves as villains in their own life story. And hardly less so in the case of the UK celeb pot trafficker parolee prankster Howard Marks, in Mr. Nice. One of his real life multiple aliases that couldn’t have fit the decidedly subjective proceedings of this oddly giddy on-the-run romp better.
Rhys Ifans turns up as Marks in a movie that can’t seem to sober up enough to gets its bearings as to whether it’s a kinky comedy or a somber thriller, or maybe a bit of both. In any case, Ifans comes off less as inhabiting the character, than uncomfortably distancing himself with an awkward, ambivalent air. And as he progresses from a mystified matriculated Welsh kid at Oxford from humble roots, to dorm room doper and then laid back affluent international pot dealer on the lam. So what we’re left with, is Ifans going through the motions with a kind of drowsy despair.
And while Marks drums up little suspense since he’s pretty much Mr. Nice on a full time basis, there’s got to be a not so Mr. Nice on hand to kick-start the sagging scenario. Enter David Thewlis, apparently on loan from yet another Harry Potter, as Irish Republican Army outrageous baddie James McCann. Thewlis is more unleashed than introduced into the story, wolfing down the scenery as Marks’ co-conspirator smuggler. That is, when not feeding his porn addiction with a special craving for boob tube beastiality babes, or scrawling cartoons on his vividly exposed private parts for our far from enthused consumption.
But since the actual Jim McCann remains a fugitive, whereabouts unknown, he can easily be inducted as the not-at-all Mr. Nice without any necessary legal permission. And lest you get the idea that these sorts of activities are among Irish insurgents’ primary pastimes, the IRA is said to have punished McCann for bad behavior, though it’s not in the movie. But someone who should be perhaps punished, is Chloe Sevigny. Not so much for signing up as the long suffering spouse simply putting up with Howard’s selfish ways – a quite educated bloke who could have aspired to other vocations but appeared to prize the easy money over the well-being of his kids – but for her really awful British accent.
So what we’re left with after the air clears, of whatever controlled substance may have made the matters at hand fairly cloudy, is a sketchy tale that could have used a lot more telling. And Bernard Rose as a noted horror director (Candyman) who could have opted for more solid suspense, as he tiptoes around his title character.
2 [out of 4] stars