Blending apocalyptic elements from “Blindness” and “Children of Men” with a love story that never catches fire, “Perfect Sense” is a perfectly insipid sci-fi romance. Though its attempt to evoke the endtimes in a glancing, impressionistic, budget-restricted manner is admirable in theory, director David Mackenzie’s second collaboration with Ewan McGregor (following 2003’s “Young Adam”) tritely tosses together two indifferently conceived characters against a backdrop of global panic that generates no urgency. IFC acquired U.S. rights at Sundance, where the film’s muted reception suggests a foretaste of mass-audience indifference to come.
“I can’t smell anymore,” a patient says during an appointment with Glasgow-based epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green), who’s at a loss to explain why the human senses are vanishing in cycles from the British population and beyond. Intense, involuntary spasms of emotion appear to be the trigger, as we see from a maudlin montage of various people worldwide, who are spontaneously overwhelmed with grief right before their olfactory nerves shut down.
With the senses of smell and taste having abandoned the public, business is understandably slow at the restaurant where Michael (Ewan McGregor) works as a chef. Michael is a handsome rake with commitment issues; Susan is a tetchy scientist with a broken heart. After a tart meet-cute, the two become lovers, and each sensory deprivation seems merely to intensify their mutual need. The less they can smell, taste or hear, the more they turn to each other for solace and distraction, as shown in fairly candid sex scenes performed by two lead actors who have never had qualms about onscreen nudity. (Exactly what Michael and Susan plan to do once they lose the sense of touch is never addressed.)
Their physical exertions aside, McGregor and Green struggle to breathe life into characters who are never adequately fleshed out in Kim Fupz Aaekson’s script, and whose compatibility seems to begin and end with their physical beauty. At regular intervals, the voice of Katy Engels intrudes with embarrassing pseudo-poetic narration, which is intended to pay tribute to the transcendent power of love but only trivializes the idea of a worldwide pandemic and its consequences.
Narrative proper is intermittently interrupted by filler sequences of Third World turmoil (a mix of archival footage and fresh imagery shot in India, Mexico and Kenya), none of which apparently requires any explanation; the film takes it on faith that the crisis it presents would naturally result in mass violence and looting sprees. Strongest technical contribution is Giles Nuttgens’ widescreen cinematography, which uses vibrant hues and textures to conjure lovely, isolated moments — especially in Michael’s cooking sequences, which fluidly capture the bustle and momentum of a restaurant kitchen.