Mr Nice is a British gangster drama that feels like it was written by the chronically romantic duke of whimsy Richard Curtis. It’s not just because it stars Rhys Ifans who, in my unfair, grippy mind, has never really escaped from the shadow of those pale blue Y-fronts he wore in Notting Hill. Since Ifans looks like the third Gallagher brother and is consequently cast in parts which suit the type, such as ageing rocker (Greenberg), DJ prick (The Boat That Rocked) and obsessive Daniel Craig fantasist (Enduring Love), it’s not surprising to see him take the role of drug smuggler Howard Marks in this true crime semi-epic.
We follow Marks from secondary school to middle age, during which time he gets a degree from Oxford, involves himself with the 60s ethos of free love, starts driving dope into the UK and eventually forms the centre of a smuggling ring which runs from California to Kabul. During this time Ifans plays the roles as he is now, which makes for some funny scenes in which his gangly form and lined face looks very out of place amongst a bunch of 18 year olds. Obviously this decision was taken as a money and time saving measure, but it manages to fit in with the lilting tone and autobiographical nature of the whole film, which is a happy coincidence.
Mr Nice is actually an accurate title. Watching it is like being knocked out by a rubber hammer that’s been warming on a vicar’s ruddy pate. The soporific effect is perhaps supposed to mirror the vast quantities of marijuana which are smoked during the film, although the comfortable feeling you get while watching it may be to do with the fact that you’re given very little to worry about. There are a couple of tense moments, but otherwise this is a laid back look at the life of a man who was once one of the world’s biggest dope pushers. This adds up to something that is very watchable, with solid performances from the cast and one or two interesting scenes. What it fails to do is leave an impression, unlike Bronson, the other recent autobiographical crime saga. In it Tom Hardy put himself into the mind and body of a certified psychopath. In Mr Nice, Rhys Ifans is just playing some intelligent Welsh bloke who happens to be a drug dealer. Which feels like he is playing himself.
This film has probably escaped from most cinemas by now, which is not really a problem as it’ll make a perfectly good rental. Alternatively you could watch The Krays. It’s got them blokes off of Spandau Ballet in it.