For an industry notorious for its test screenings, focus groups and obsession with what will play best in the heartland, the movie business occasionally and spectacularly drops the ball with respect to its mainstream entertainment. Last year, someone decided what the public most wanted to see was America's Sweethearts, a film that parodied press junkets -- those media feeding frenzies the general public never gets to attend anyway. This week, we have a film whose poster proclaims, "One man is about to do the unthinkable. No sex. Whatsoever. For . . . 40 Days and 40 Nights."
Um, hello? Is that, like, supposed to be hard? Take away the last line, and isn't that the basic pitch for every episode of Beavis and Butt-head ever drawn? Sure, if you're a studio exec, some aspiring starlet might blow you every day on command. But if you're Joe Average, and especially part of the coveted 18-to-25 demographic, chances are you'd kill to have guaranteed sex once every 40 days. Even sitcom characters don't bitch about not getting any until at least six months have passed (enough already, Ross).
But Matt (Josh Hartnett) isn't like the rest of us. Beautiful women throw themselves at him daily, and it's such a problem. Why? Well, he's trying to get over his ex (Vinessa Shaw), and every time he has sex with someone else, he envisions his ceiling starting to crack, revealing a black hole that threatens to suck him in. One could suggest that he simply not look at the ceiling, but, alas, the modern woman just has to be on top, forcing Matt's gaze heavenward. It's tempting to review this film by simply repeating the phrase "boo hoo!" 400 times.
In a fluke of bad timing that makes the film seem even more irrelevant, Matt works at a thriving dot-com in an oddly all-hetero San Francisco. What he does for them isn't entirely clear; nor, for that matter, is what the company does. But that's beside the point, because, ya know, this stuff is hip! Why, they even have their own bagel delivery guy (Slackers' Michael Maronna, funnier here by a slim margin).
In an attempt to shake the old girlfriend baggage -- which seems highly unlikely, since he apparently, and intrusively, videotaped her at all hours against her wishes -- Matt decides to swear off sex for Lent. His motives aren't entirely pure: It's also a way of competing with his brother (Adam Trese), who's studying to become a priest. At first, the vow makes him stronger, as he swiftly becomes a workaholic. But then the girl of his dreams (A Knight's Tale's Shannyn Sossamon, looking like Teri Hatcher's kid sister) just happens to introduce herself at the Laundromat.
The no-sex vow also includes masturbation and virtually any form of touching, though caressing a naked girl with flowers is A-OK. But Matt's attempts to resist are curiously feeble. He only turns to booze on the very last day and settles on model cars as a new hobby (surely, taking up, say, Dungeons and Dragons would be far more off-putting to the ladies). Or how about refusing to bathe, wearing a WWF tee shirt or initiating debates on the respective merits of U.S.S. Enterprise captains? Perhaps the film's biggest irony is that Matt's co-workers begin taking bets on what day he'll give in and try to alter the outcome, in part by setting up a Web site about Matt's vow that becomes, of course, ubiquitous. Surfed the Web lately, geniuses? Home pages about people not getting any aren't exactly news.
40 Days and 40 Nights is merely another work for hire in the canon of director Michael Lehmann, who started strong with Heathers and Meet the Applegates, then lost all goodwill with the misunderstood Hudson Hawk. Since then, generic flicks such as My Giant have undoubtedly paid for his house, but the surreal sense of fun he brought to his earlier works is seldom in evidence here, save for one hallucinatory computer-generated sea of breasts, which must be seen (preferably on a friend's cable system, so none of your own money is wasted) to be believed. Even Hartnett, designated Next Big Thing last year, seems like he's barely trying. And while there's a decent amount of female nudity, mostly toward film's end to deter walkouts, any pleasure to be had by such is erased by a climax that shrugs off the rape of an unconscious person as a minor inconvenience, presumably because a male is the victim.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.