Picks and Pans Review: Sweet November

updated 02/26/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves

If he wasn't one already, the soulless adman in need of romantic rehabilitation is fast becoming a cliché. These smooth operators excel at their work but not at living their lives. Ben Affleck was one in Bounce, Mel Gibson showboated his way through the job in What Women Want, and now Keanu Reeves applies his modest talent and prairie-flat voice to a similar role in Sweet November, a dopey tearjerker.

Reeves is Nelson Moss, a workaholic who becomes the latest rehab project of Sara Deever (Theron). She is what in an earlier era (and Sweet November is a remake of a minor 1968 film starring Anthony Newley and Sandy Dennis) would have been known as an adorable kook, partial to bohemian attire and a carefree approach to life. She invites uptight men (one at a time) to live and sleep with her for a month, during which she helps them loosen up and appreciate life. For Moss, this means ditching his cell phone, forgoing suits for T-shirts and baggy jeans, and spending his days romping on the beach with a pack of poodles rather than trying to be top dog at his office. Why does Deever do all this? Well, as even dim-bulb Moss finally figures out, she has a sad, secret reason for savoring each moment.

Given that November, unevenly directed by Pat O'Connor (Dancing at Lugbnasa), is set in San Francisco and that Deever's best friend and downstairs neighbor is gay and a sometime drag queen, the subtext of the movie would seem to be about living to one's fullest in the age of AIDS. Inexplicably, though, the disease is never mentioned. (The story might make more sense, and justify a remake, if both leads were men and one had AIDS.) In the end, a hardworking Theron doesn't embarrass herself when the going gets hokey. Reeves, however, does. After his commendably scary turn as a violent hick in The Gift, he has reverted back to his dull, somnambulant self. In a cameo as a ruthless mogul, Frank Langella has a quick lunch scene that gives the whole movie a lift and even bestirs Reeves to wake up briefly. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: December can't come soon enough

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