The popularity of Welsh marijuana dealer and international criminal mastermind Howard Marks’ mischievous, salty and funny 1997 autobiography was due mainly to Marks’ admirable balancing act between outlaw mythology and Lord Byron’s assertion that ‘the menace of Hell makes as many devils as the severe penal codes of inhuman humanity make villains.’ Now Tolstoy-obsessed writer and filmmaker Bernard Rose (Ivansxtc, The Kreutzer Sonata) has turned it into a comedy caper.
Rose takes the scenic route as he follows Marks’ progress from his first puff at Balliol College, Oxford to multiple disguise-wearing international drug smuggler to extradition to and imprisonment in America.
It’s a giddy, good-natured romp through the colourful low-tech world of crooked accountants, multiple landline numbers, freight shipments and patriotic delusion.
Things are greatly helped by a fine, if broad, central performance by Rhys Ifans as Marks and Rose’s inventive use of real background footage, which plays a sense of the hyperreal against a more fuggy remembrance.
As with the effects of Marks’ drug of choice and commerce, the problems with Mr Nice come down to that of perception and judgement. Despite the best efforts of Rose’s nuanced screenplay, Marks’ Robin Hood persona is difficult to buy, while the frequent descents into paranoia pantomime courtesy of David Thewlis’ ridiculous porn obsessed IRA terrorist henchman and Crispin Glover’s gay Californian stringer undermine the more pleasing aspects of Marks’ Candide-esque journey. It’s enjoyable enough, if a little tonally monged.