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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

    Caught in the web of legal imperialism

    The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
    Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

    'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

    The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
    Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards