Call the coroner

this one's a goner

Review: Charlize Theron breathes life into Keanu Reeves, but she can't save `Sweet November.'

February 16, 2001|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Try explaining Keanu Reeves' appeal to a guy, and you're likely to run into a roadblock. But lots of women get it. When he looks at you with those baby browns, well, something cosmic happens. Forgotten are his struggles as a serious actor; he's forgiven his flaws for that earnest quality he brings to each role.

That said, "Sweet November" may wear patience thin. As a romantic lead, he starts off on the wrong foot as a sour-pants hot-shot ad exec, Nelson Moss.

He is reunited with his "Devil's Advocate" co-star, Charlize Theron, who plays Sara Deever, a bohemian who tries to rehabilitate men who've lost the ability to connect with others. Her unconventional methods remain the same in this updated version of the 1968 film: For one month only, she devotes herself to one man. She is a touchy-feely Florence Nightingale in overdrive, pulling out all the stops when Nelson becomes Mr. November.

The last time these two played a couple, he was the son of Satan and a workaholic who turned his wife's life upside down with his ascent to the penthouse suite. Not much has changed.

Sure, they've gone from New York to San Francisco, but Reeves' protagonist is still a workaholic. This time, Theron's character gets to exact quid pro quo. After a chance encounter leaves him in her debt, she wreaks havoc in his perfectly ordered and boring life. It's a head-on collision of opposites.

Nelson is a relentlessly driven poster boy for self-absorption, while Sara exudes warmth and friendliness. His technology-driven world pales next to her more organic digs, where green plants thrive. He walks around like the living dead, while she lives life to the fullest. In her mismatched and colorful outfits, Sara is spontaneity embodied, while Nelson's impeccable wardrobe consists of shades of gray.

On Reeves, it's an ill-fitting suit. When he tosses it out and agrees to live with her, you cheer because hurrah, he gets to be the good guy again. (The change in wardrobe results in Nelson sporting a paisley-pattern corduroy shirt. For a guy who used to avoid scary situations, he seems to be jumping without looking down.)

He becomes the perfect boyfriend. About that same time, the pendulum swings and Theron goes into her weepy girl mode - we find out she's just been acting strong to resist succumbing to a fatal illness.

Such cookie-cutter scenarios corrupt the sweet story that struggles to emerge from beneath the rubble. As easy as turning a light-switch on and off, Nelson's selfishness turns to compassion and care. We're supposed to think that Sara makes Nelson stop in his tracks and appreciate the simple joy of being alive. It's all so by-the-book that any life that's in the film rapidly drains out.

One thing more - how can a San Francisco boy, as Nelson claims to be, be so shocked around Sara's transvestite friends? Maybe in other parts of the country they don't see many muscley men wearing backless sequined gowns, but in the city by the bay you don't even bat a false eyelash.

You're more likely to do a double-take on the implausibility of Nelson's transformation from frog to prince - captured literally on one billboard behind our duo as an ad for match.com, a popular on-line dating service.

Now that's unfathomable.

`Sweet November'

Starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron

Directed by Pat O'Connor

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language

Released by Warner Bros. Pictures

Running time 120 min.

Sun score * 1/2

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