There's no shortage of superbeings at the movies. There's even a superbeagle now. So why not have a super-nose? In "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," it is attached to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), thrown at birth into the muck of an 18th-century French fish market and raised in an orphanage that would make Dickens blush.
Grenouille, though low of birth, is high of nostrils, with the snoot of a bassett hound. After apprenticing in a hellish tannery, Grenouille -- a 20-something cross between Ryan Phillippe and Gollum from "Lord of the Rings" manages to secure a better apprenticeship with a once-great perfumer (Dustin Hoffman), where he learns of a formula for making the ultimate scent. The formula and Grenouille's unnatural zeal to fill it with the reality he smells around him has the potential to destroy him or make him a god.
If a movie studio ever takes on "Les Misérables" again, let the filmmakers of "Perfume" handle the filth and degradation. Director Tom Tykwer and his crew have made a greasy monument to misery in "Perfume," besting such recent works as the remake of "Oliver Twist" in re-creating the misery of the poor when it very well might have been at its height in Europe.
The scene in which the infant Grenouille is thrown, still covered in birth matter, into a gutter of fish waste as the market goes on chopping and sliming around him is mesmerizing. The problem is the other half of the movie's title. The film would have been fine as simply the story of a perfumer. But though you may be fascinated by Grenouille and his ability to mix master scents in minutes, that stuff eventually takes a back seat to a plot-driven story of a serial killer, with all the lame tropes of that genre in tow. The hero's quest to make a killer scent is great, but all the killing smells like rotten leftovers. (R)