Sweet November

“Sweet November” has a few moments in which Keanu Reeves’s character, Nelson Moss, is asleep. At these times, we can see plainly that what we’ve always suspected is literally true: Keanu’s facial expression when he’s asleep is the same as when he’s awake.

Nelson Moss is a fast-lane San Francisco advertising executive who spends money recklessly and treats his girlfriend shabbily. Everything can be bought and sold as far as he’s concerned, and that includes paying off a woman named Sara Deever (Charlize Theron) when he inadvertently makes her fail her DMV test.

Sara, a free-spirited New Age succubus, will not be bought, however. Her license suspended, she gets Nelson to drive her around and eventually gets him back to her place. There she proposes a crazy plan that will sound crazy when I tell you about it and sounds no less crazy in the movie: She wants Nelson to move in with her for exactly one month. He is to quit working and let her “fix” him, take him from his money-driven lifestyle and teach him a simple existence.

Nelson tells her this is crazy talk, of course, which it is. But when he gets fired from his job for a hot dog-related debacle, and his girlfriend leaves him, well, you know, what the heck. Why not move in with the stranger for a month? Why not go ahead and have sex with her the first evening, too, in what is possibly the most out-of-nowhere, unjustified physical relationship in movie history? I mean, why not?

Sure enough, Sara starts to get Nelson to think about something other than money and power (Screenwriting 101: people with money are bad). They befriend the pleasant transvestites who live downstairs from Sara. Nelson and Sara fall in love, don’t ask me why. Then there is a tragedy that has already been loudly hinted at in the film’s advertisements, but which I won’t spoil here except to say that it’s another standard Screenwriting 101 technique. Then everything turns all weepy and melancholy. We’ll call it “Autumn in San Francisco” (except that you probably didn’t see “Autumn in New York” and therefore don’t get the reference).

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but Keanu Reeves can’t act. Or maybe he can and has just chosen not to so far. He’s had moments of adequacy (“The Gift”), and even adeptness (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”). But he’s mostly just had moments of having a stuporous look on his face and saying lines as if reading them for the first time and not bothering to make them sound real. (He is utterly unconvincing as a cocky ad exec, especially in his big meltdown scene.)

Keanu’s slack-jawed, I-just-got-hit-in-the-face-with-a-board expression in particular does “Sweet November” a disservice. This is a romance; we should probably see some emotion in the guy’s face. We should probably see some indication that he and his co-star have some chemistry together. Charlize Theron is good enough as Sara, though her featherweight acting technique, which makes her characters all seem believable but shallow, is fast wearing thin. (Putting her in eight movies a year is not helping any.) And she’s no match for the park bench that is Keanu Reeves anyway; even Audrey Hepburn would be dull as a butter knife if paired with him.

Did I mention Keanu sings in this movie? Yeah, he does. It’s not supposed to be funny, but it is. San Francisco is a lovely city, and many scenes in the film reflect that. Jason Isaacs is nice as one of the transvestite neighbors. And that’s all the good I have to say about this dismal, cliché-ridden fiasco.

D (; PG-13, scattered profanity, some strong sexuality and some brief partial nudity.)