Josh Hartnett's engaging performance can't help '40 Days and 40 Nights'
By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
|40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS (Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and profanity) One and One-Half Stars (Poor-to-Fair)
A young man gives up sex for Lent and then meets the woman of his dreams. Great set-up, but weak writing keeps it from being nearly as funny as it should be. Starring Josh Hartnett, Shannyn Sossamon. Directed by Michael Lehmann. Miramax Pictures. Rated R (profanity, sexuality, nudity). Miramax, 93 mins.
But being agreeable is about the best one can say for this film by Michael Lehmann, whose resume starts with the promising "Heathers" and collapses after that. While "40 Days and 40 Nights" works hard at making sex jokes and establishing emotional depth, it is neither as funny nor as deep as it seems to think.Josh Hartnett plays Matt, a San Francisco dot-commer who's still suffering from his break-up Nicole (Vinessa Shaw). A total hound, he's been on a nonstop girl-hunt ever since but suffers from a Nicole-generated mental block that causes him to feel as though the ceiling is about to crash in on him whenever he's about to have sex.
So he announces to his priest (who also happens to be his brother) that, to gain the clarity he needs, he's taking a vow of abstinence for Lent: 40 days without any sexual contact.
Naturally, on the first day of his journey into chastity, he meets the perfect girl. Great, he thinks: a chance to test his theory about the way sex fogs the mind and serves as an obstacle in a relationship.
By the second day, through no fault of Matt's, everyone at his office knows about his pledge and, unbeknownst to Matt, the office shark has set up a pool (complete with Web site) to take bets on which day Matt will fall off the wagon.
Eventually, Matt confesses his plan to this new woman (Shannyn Sossamon), who agrees to try his chaste approach. Still, every day at work, he must run a gauntlet of male and female colleagues alike, who have a monetary stake in tempting him to break his vow.
That's the set-up for what is, at times, a thoughtful look at the 20-something male's perpetual struggle: sex vs. intimacy. The two aren't synonymous and, as Matt discovers, the latter is both more desirable and more difficult to achieve.
The filmmakers also have the right idea in examining the reactions of the people around Matt. Men and women alike are threatened by his celibacy, though for difference reasons.
Hartnett gives one of the more open and engaging performances in his still-young career, unfortunately, the writing doesn't provide Sossamon and Paulo Costanzo funny material.
Despite a plethora of sex-related jokes, Matt's desperation (as well as the desperation of the people around him) is never palpable enough to be truly funny. This is a movie that longs to be naughty, but never knows how to go far enough to truly surprise.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and profanity.