Tom Tykwer’s nose isn’t the problem here, his ears are: the tone of his Süskind adaptation is all wrong. It’s been a long time since I read the novel, but somehow Süskind managed to sell the outrageous tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the strangely gifted 18th-century murderer. Perfume is a strange fable, a dark fairy tale, a bad dream. Tykwer tells it as if he’s remaking Amadeus: swelling music, ponderous voice-over, extras, costumes, the works–and not a whit of humor.

As a procession of images that illustrate the novel, Perfume is handsome enough, and newcomer Ben Whishaw does a fine job with the rather thankless role (his nose gets all the close-ups.) Worried father Richis (Alan Rickman) glowers and gnashes his teeth, and his daughter Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is suitably delectable as the red-headed object of Grenouille’s olfactory obsessions. Only Dustin Hoffman, as the Italian perfumer Baldini, is allowed the occasional moment of warmth or levity.

At two and a half hours, Perfume lumbers, creaks, and stubbornly insists on its own importance where it should have been breezy and sly. As straight historical thriller, the story of the monstrous Grenouille is completely preposterous; a more knowing attitude and a less somber tone might have helped to make it work on screen. It’s surprising that the director of Run Lola Run didn’t make a movie that’s lighter on its feet. Opens December 27.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Tom Tykwer, 2006.**

[tags]2 stars, film, tom tykwer, ben whishaw, rachel hurd-wood, perfume, france, fable, noses, patrick süskind, german, dustin hoffman, alan rickman[/tags]