Possibly one of the strangest directors working today (though not necessarily in a bad way), Bernard Rose‘s new film Mr. Nice fits into his collection about as well as anything else… which is to say, not at all. From Smart Money, to Candyman, to Immortal Beloved, looking over his past work gives little, if any, indication of… anything. Throwing in now with the semi-real account of Howard Marks, a decidedly odd British drug smuggler of some renown, somehow solidifies the filmmakers style and purpose, by being as totally random as the rest of his work.
Rhys Ifans stars as the titular wanted man, who becomes a drug smuggler more or less by accident. The film opens with a somewhat cliche and uninspired version of the fairly goofy chap who has one hit of pot and instantly transforms his life into the quest for more. It is the sort of scenario in a biographical feature which, if true, one should be clever enough to lie about.
Once beyond the hurdle (and obvious annoyance) of having to start somewhere, the film quickly comes into its own, and presents the truly bizarre tale of how a man with all the malice of a drunk bunny became a notorious, international drug trafficker.
When Howard Marks started at University, he discovered that his room was the secret entrance used to gain access the school’s drug dealer. Ah, the twists of fate. Investigating the lovely woman who demands entry to his room, only to leave again, he finds himself sucked into the joys of drug use. After becoming a regular to the scene, Marks’ dealer friend is caught during a run bringing in drugs, and Marks goes to finish the trip himself.
Before he knows what’s happening, Marks finds himself with suppliers willing to deliver as much hashish as he can get into the country, but with little in the way of ability to get any into the country. Enter Jim McCann (David Thewlis), IRA revolutionary with the ability to get whatever he wants into Ireland.
Adding to the mix of Marks’ life are his long-term relationship with Judy (Chloë Sevigny), and eventually their children, and the fact that an old friend who is also a government agent wants Marks to get him information on McCann and others.
The movie plays out as a comedy of errors, with Marks in over his head from day one. He has little idea what he’s doing, and really knows only that things seem to work out somehow. He can hardly deal with McCann at all, who is generally qualified for his position, whatever that may be, by being something of a nutter, and the more things spin out of control, the more Marks somehow reckons it’s all no big deal.
There is much happening at the fringes of Mr. Nice, but as much as it plays out rather entertainingly, it perhaps delivers the hollowness of Marks’ life too well. The story of a man who does what he does because it just turns out to be what he’s doing, without any purpose or direction, the film takes on the trait itself, and becomes equally a bit of a laugh without a great deal to recommend. Fascinating in its own way, but unfortunately largely forgettable.