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"Mr. Nice": Affable Drug Smuggling Thriller Induces Contact High 

Wednesday, Jun 29 2011

As might be expected of a globe-hopping, decades-spanning drug-smuggler biopic, Mr. Nice commences by trying to induce a contact high: Black-and-white flushes to color as Welshman Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans) takes his first dorm-room toke. The tone remains light, in spite of the typically insistent Philip Glass score. Writer-director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved), adapting Marks's autobiography, charts his subject's rise to prominence by occasionally inserting Ifans, Zelig-like, into snippets of archival footage. Ever charmingly passive, Marks stumbles into an alliance with Provisional IRA hothead Jim McCann (David Thewlis), fields MI6 overtures from a college chum (Christian McKay), and gets a primer on California living from kingpin Ernie Combs (a heavily bearded Crispin Glover, whose scenes veer furthest into pusher-epic cliché). A good deal less colorful is Judy Marks (Chloë Sevigny), who stands by her man as he cycles through a number of aliases. Mr. Nice refreshingly declines to put its protagonist through the motions of repentance as it descends into legal morass: Marks maintains he hasn't done anything wrong, and at one point a judge even indirectly concurs before reverting to the letter of the law. Though told here with appealing drollness, Marks' story makes an odd vessel for the filmmakers' casually advanced legalization arguments, what with its mischiefmaking on the grandest scale possible.

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Benjamin Mercer


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