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October 14, 2011

Movies You Missed 8: Mr. Nice

Mr-niceThis week in movies you missed: the adventures of an international dope peddler — with Harry Potter actors!

What You Missed

Rhys Ifans plays Howard Marks, one of the UK's most notorious drug smugglers, in a biopic based on Marks' book. Framed by a lecture the retired Marks is delivering to a crowd of his fans, the film takes us from his impoverished childhood in Wales to his years as a scholarship student at Oxford through his extensive criminal career and imprisonment in the U.S. Ifans plays Marks at all these stages, just with different clothes and hair.

Bernard Rose, who directed both Candyman (!) and Immortal Beloved, was in charge of this dope-fueled epic. Chloë Sevigny (with a passable British accent) plays Marks' longtime girlfriend and wife, Judy, and Crispin Glover pops up. But the best turn belongs to David Thewlis (aka Remus Lupin for those of you who haven't been following Mike Leigh movies) as a boozing, porn-loving, volatile IRA operative who allows Marks access to Shannon Airport and thereby gives wings to his international hash-smuggling operation.

Why You Missed It

Mr. Nice played at some U.S. theaters, but not around here. Considering its strong pro-pot legalization message, the lack of wider distribution is no huge surprise.

Should You Keep Missing It?

This movie is kind of like Scarface without the violence, or GoodFellas without the tragic descent. It's got decent pacing, sweep and visual panache, and some absurdist laughs, but the drama and stakes aren't there.

Basically, the film seems to adopt Marks' view of himself: He was a nice guy (Mr. Nice was one of his convenient aliases, but an apt one) who liked smoking dope so much that he bought a lot of it. When he couldn't smoke it all himself, he had to start selling. Dope changes Marks' whole world: When he smokes his first joint in college, the film goes from drab black and white to color, Wizard of Oz style. He gets a high from driving across borders with a trunk full of weed, too, calling it an "asexual orgasm" in his voiceover. Flying hash out of Afghanistan? Expanding to the U.S.? It's pure pleasure for him.

While Marks as played by Ifans is clearly more affable stoner than Tony Montana, we never delve far into his motives. Sevigny gets the dull and thankless role of "criminal's sweetie who begs him to go straight, to no avail." The film's main appeal is in the panorama of 1960s-'80s settings and the procedural details of smuggling large amounts of dope. (Don't try this at home, kids!) It's never boring, but it's never all that gripping, either.

Verdict: Mr. Nice is an ambitious, well-made film, worth a rental if you're into this era and this issue, but it's no "Breaking Bad." (And, yes, I can probably be counted on to shoehorn references to that show into these blog posts until season 4 comes out on DVD.) If you like Thewlis and Ifans, two great actors who aren't exactly household names in the U.S., that's a plus.

Other new DVD releases you may have missed:

  • The Tree of Life (Some viewers walked out of Terrence Malick's latest. I did not.)
  • The Trip (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon do their Michael Caine impressions in a road movie.)
  • Terri (An overweight teen has to overcome having Creed Bratton as his uncle in this well-reviewed indie.)
  • Submarino (More Danish family angst from the director of The Celebration.)
  • Beautiful Boy (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello gave birth to a school shooter and grapple with the consequences. No, this is not the similarly themed movie with Tilda Swinton.)
  • The Princess of Montpensier (Romantic drama set centuries ago at the French court.)
  • The Riddle of the Sands (1978 spy thriller with Michael York and Jenny Agutter)

Each week I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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