40 Days and 40 Nights
2002, R, 95 min. Directed by Michael Lehmann. Starring Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon, Vinessa Shaw, Paulo Costanzo, Griffin Dunne, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 1, 2002
Some of us are angry and bitter. Some of us haven't found the right person yet. Some of us are just having a slow month … or year … or whatever. If you're one of us, then a movie about a guy who gives up sex for Lent and goes near batty in the process might not be for you. Because some of us -- those of us not living in the Land of Beautiful People Who Hump Like Shih Tzus in Heat -- are going to have a mighty difficult time swallowing back that snort of derision at the presumption that a month and a half is a really long time to go without ejaculation. It'll take a steady two hours of muffling those snorts, 'cause really all 40 Days and 40 Nights has to offer is a two-hour riff on life in the slow lane. Actually, it's still pretty fast for San Francisco Web designer Matt Sullivan (Hartnett). After a series of meaningless sexual encounters don't help Matt get over his ex-girlfriend, he swears off sex for Lent, thinking he'll clear his head and get to catch up on all those model airplane kits collecting dust in the corner. But wouldn't you know it, once he slips on the chastity belt, the ladies come calling. (In one of the funnier sequences, a trio of feminists attempts to seduce Matt; upset by the disrupted pecking order of who's supposed to withhold sex, they're selflessly looking to regain “the power” for all the sisters out there.) Further complications occur when Matt meets the girl of his dreams at the laudromat (Sossamon). This is the point where the audience is asked to stomach another presumption: That not coupling for a couple of weeks is a major hindrance to getting to know the girl you think you may love. But then, 40 Days and 40 Nights is little more than a series of presumptions and implausibilities, of monkey wrenches violently hurled into the works, all contrived to delay gratification 'til the last possible moment. Funny thing is, by the time we get through all the teasing to the good stuff, it's just not very interesting anymore. It should have been: The likable Hartnett shows an aptitude for comedy previously unseen, and Sossamon and Gyllenhaal, as Matt's love interest and her best friend, are a couple of spitfires who could have turned this picture around, given the chance. But, alas, their screen time is piddling. And it has to be, in order to service a plot that requires women to be seen as nameless, sometimes even faceless, Temptresses of Evil in Very Short Skirts. First-time screenwriter Robert Perez gets some good gags in, but they suffer from an off-putting lewdness that the film doesn't have the rakish charm of, say, a Farrelly Brothers film to pull off. Frankly, 40 Days and 40 Nights would have benefited from a PG-13 rating: less smut, more seduction. And director Lehmann (whose work has spiraled from the sublime Heathers to the bottom-feeding Airheads) still could have gotten his kicks in; in a weird little hat trick, 40 Days and 40 Nights has a not-quite-sex scene that mimics the mutual masturbation one in Lehmann's The Truth About Cats and Dogs. (How's that for a career ID: “Michael Lehmann?” “Yeah, he's the `look ma, no penetration!' dude.” “Oh yeah.”) 40 Days and 40 Nights doesn't do much to further distinguish Lehmann's career. As for those of us waiting for the year's first worthwhile date movie, the wait continues. That's okay. Most of us are used to it anyway.