By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist February 12, 2012 at 10:10AM
If you thought the fast spreading virus in "Contagion" was bad, Steven Soderbergh's film has got nothing on David Mackenzie's "Perfect Sense." A romance, sci-fi tale and apocalyptic vision of the breakdown of humanity all rolled into one, there is no source for the virus which moves quicky and mysteriously around the world. It just happens, and the effects are devastating. Anyone stricken with the virus begins to lose each of their senses, one by one over the course of days and weeks. There is no cure and there is no way to stop it, and it's against this backdrop that romance, against all odds, begins to flourish.
It's to Mackenzie's credit that his already high-concept film doesn't completely collapse under the thematically manipulative characters he chooses to tell his story. We're taken through this harrowing tale by Michael (Ewan McGregor) and Susan (Eva Green). Of course, Michael is a chef and he sees his profession and career -- which relies heavily on pretty much all of his senses -- drastically affected by this new virus which is taking away customers, who no longer want to pay for a meal they can't taste. Susan is an epidemiologist, a researcher that essentially studies virsuses and pathogens and how they spread, who is assigned to investigate this latest deadly strain. This is all pretty convenient and allows Mackenzie to short hand a lot of his narrative, but when these characters are played by McGregor and Green, who bring strong work even if the material around them isn't always up to the task, you're still willing to see where it goes.
And on the one hand, the romance story works. When we first meet Michael, he's a relentless womanizer, who has no shame in kicking his latest one night stand out of his bed because he can't sleep if there's someone else there. Meanwhile, Susan is still nursing a wound from a recent breakup and is questioning her taste in men entirely. And when Susan and Michael cross paths -- he bums a cigarette from her in the back of his restaurant, which also happens to be yards away from where she lives -- the scientist remains cautious about this very charming man. And for Michael, he initially doesn't see Susan as anything more than a potential conquest. But watching McGregor and Green flirt, circle, play cagey and give in to each other is a treat, and feels like the authentic build of a relationship.
But it's the other elements of the story that don't fare as well. In Mackenzie's world, the loss of each sense is immediately preceded by an uncontrollable burst of concentrated emotion, from a crushing bout of depression to a furious fit of ravenous eating. These sequences are jarring, and for a film that makes a point of having a scientist as a main character, remains just as unexplained as the infection that causes it. It's as if the mere presence of an epidemiologist allows Mackenzie to excuse himself from applying too many rules to the world he's created. Worse yet, are the moments of voice-over narration, set to montages of scenes around the world, as humanity both comes together and falls apart as the citizens of the world grow more helpless and dependent on each other. These sequences attempt to make some kind of profound, overreaching statement, but it's all rather trite, and a loose bridge to try and marry the disparate apocalyptic story fragments that Mackenzie leaves hanging.
It's not a spoiler to say that Michael and Susan find love, but Mackenzies's film doesn't make their connection resonate the way it should. The entire framework throws the film out of balance, and the director can never quite find a symmetry between the micro love story and macro end-of-days setting. "Perfect Sense" actually doesn't make any, but with two leads as beautiful and handsome as Green and McGregor, they at least make watching it happen go down easy. [C]