Mr Nice, Bernard Rose, 121 mins (18)

You would have to indulge in Howard Marks's premium brand not to find this flat biopic, starring an irritating Ifan Rhys, smug and self-congratulatory

What's the very least you can expect a biopic to do?

Tell you who a person was, what they did and, surely, persuade you that they merited a film in the first place. In some cases, persuasion seems almost beside the point: you can't imagine many people paying to see Bernard Rose's Mr Nice if they weren't already fans of its subject, former drug smuggler Howard Marks. Now, there are possibly enough fervent Marks-ists out there already to make Mr Nice a viable financial proposition – his 1996 memoir of the same title apparently still shifts 500 copies a week. But for the non-aligned, writer-director Rose doesn't make that much of a case for his man, other than to tell us that he's an affable chap who likes the odd spliff, never meant anyone any harm, and had a jolly old time sticking it to the Man in the nicest possible way.

That's hardly enough to merit two hours' screen time – or a portentous Philip Glass score – especially when the story is told, altogether unquestioningly, from Marks's point of view. The film begins with red curtains and Marks (Rhys Ifans) ambling on stage to regale a theatre audience with his tale – a hoary framing device, excused by the fact that Marks has latterly made a career as a raconteur. Not surprisingly, the film ends with its hero lighting a joint to wild cheers from his public. His narrative is no searing confessional, more a cosy fireside reminiscence, like a bluff brigadier mumbling away over the port.

There's surely a good story in Marks's life, but Rose's narrative is patchwork picaresque, one rum thing after another. Working-class Welsh lad goes to Oxford in the 1960s, meets the arty types down the corridor, wonders what the funny smell is coming from their room and learns that dope and the occasional sugar lump go down a treat with dayglo posters and a cavorting dollybird or two. Later he falls into drug smuggling by accident and meets some far-out types along the way. Ifans's endlessly amused voice-over, rolling lushly like a red leb Dylan Thomas, jovially cuts in now and then as Marks tells us about the IRA man (David Thewlis) with a thing about animal porn, the time he tried to smuggle a consignment into the United States in a rock band's speaker cabinets, the fake Mexican policeman that he produced as a court witness ... I say, do belt up and pass that joint, Brigadier.

The film fulfils the minimum life-story requirements: it gives you the basic facts, shows that the subject was a little bit representative of his time, tosses in a few gentle ironies. Beyond that, Mr Nice is as flat as a slept-on roach. It could have been richer had it distanced itself from Marks's account, played up the inconsistencies, perhaps ironised him in the way that 24 Hour Party People fondly ridiculed Tony Wilson. But there's no critical perspective, and the old "ain't-I-a-one" voice-over keeps kicking: "I was now being pursued by the IRA, the DEA, Customs and Excise and the press."

There are a few cheerful, if obvious screw-the-system gags: shagging in front of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" TV broadcast, money men boggle-eyed at Marks piling money on their boardroom table ("Gentlemen – this is what banking is all about!"). And there are enjoyable turns from a suave Omid Djalili, as Marks's Pakistan contact, and Thewlis, who hasn't had the chance to really go spare on screen since Naked, and more than makes up for lost time as shaggy, mad-eyed Jim McCann. There's also some wasted casting, notably Crispin Glover, his loopiness swamped by beard, and an uneasily transatlantic, oddly tetchy Chloë Sevigny as Marks's wife Judy.

But the real stumbling block is Rhys Ifans. He can be a good thing when judiciously placed in the right film (Greenberg, Enduring Love). Left off the leash, however, he exudes smugness in a way that ought to be appropriate to Marks's stoner swagger, but quickly gets insufferable, especially in all the shots of him with fumes billowing from his smirking gob.

"A dealer," Marks says, "is really someone who buys more dope than he can smoke." Not strictly true – a dealer is someone who hopes to sell more than he can smoke, for the best possible profit. Marks is your basic hippie capitalist – and for all his vaunted good-guy principles, one who didn't have qualms about playing ball with both MI6 and an IRA boss. The film has little to say about this, nor – outside a morose final chapter – about Marks putting himself in a position where, any day soon, his wife and daughters were likely to see him stuck behind bars. So Marks put a lot of dope on the market at a time when it was much appreciated – this hardly makes him a pioneer of counter-culture, any more than the bloke who sold Picasso his brushes was the founding father of Cubism. Mr Nice is nothing more than – excuse the expression – a glorified puff piece.

Next Week:

Jonathan Romney heads deeper into Biopic Valley, with the story of the boy who created Facebook, David Fincher's The Social Network

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments