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40 Days and 40 Nights

  40 days and 40 nights
Shannyn Sossamon and Josh Hartnett bring their sexual tension to the seashore.

© 2002, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

Think about it for a minute. Just how big a fan of Josh Hartnett are you? Would the very image of the newly (and sadly) crowned flavor of the month running around with a raging erection under his boxers be enough to thrust you into comedic hysterics? You have to be a Josh Hartnett fan club president to find his new comedy "40 Days And 40 Nights" (IMDb listing) anything besides excruciatingly unfunny.

Matt Sullivan (Hartnett, "Pearl Harbor," "Black Hawk Down"), has just barely survived a brutal breakup with his long time love Nicole (Vinessa Shaw, "Corky Romano"). Unable to fill his sexual void with numerous one-night-stands, Matt decides to give up any sexual contact for Lent. Enter Erica (Shannyn Sossamon, "A Knight's Tale"), who meets Matt at the outset of his new lifestyle. The two quickly fall for each other, but find the lack of intimacy trying on their relationship. Not helping matters any are Matt's co-workers and friends (Paulo Costanzo from "Road Trip," who is grating and smug without even opening his mouth) who have started to wager on Matt's success, which invites trouble as Nicole comes back calling to seduce Matt and win the bet.

Mounting an R-rated sex comedy in these troubled PG-13 times is a tough proposition. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But director Michael Lehmann ("Heathers," "The Truth About Cats And Dogs") and screenwriter Rob Perez have taken it upon themselves to reinvigorate the long dead genre. Unfortunately, they haven't brought a single fresh idea with them. "40 Days" is a desperate comedy, filled with been-there, done-that gags and a cast that really doesn't belong where only Marty Feldman should be allowed to stand.

Lehmann's film is chock full of lame ideas for comedy. He gets plenty of mileage out of the erection gags, but also delves into masturbation jokes, Viagra and some token lesbianism to rile up the audience. "40 Days" is clearly aimed at young males, and it's a shame Lehmann isn't smart enough to rise above the material to find something fresher to investigate. He's proven himself a capable director in the past, but here, Lehmann submits himself to the bandwagon national wave of bodily fluid humor, young love clichés and ultra-hipster locales (here: San Francisco).

Of course, all the jokes in "40 Days" depend on Hartnett's ability to sell them. However, as was apparent on a recent "Saturday Night Live," he just isn't a born comedian. Gravely-voiced and built like a GQ model, the filmmakers decide to turn Matt into a sort of klutz, as to help the audience identify with the character in some small way. It doesn't work, and neither does Hartnett's portrayal of a sex-starved young man. Watching him get all jittery and foam at the mouth, I had to remind myself that the character was simply going without sex, not food and water. While it's a treat to see Hartnett opening his range beyond sullen adolescents, he should stick to drama, as comedy reveals the actor to be a man of minimal charms.

What Hartnett (whom you can spot easily since he is the only character who isn't some MTVesque, sideburned idiot) doesn't oversell with the condom and boner jokes, he undersells with the romance. Creating zero romantic chemistry with co-star Sossamon, it's hard to find the couple's plight even remotely engaging. Neither actor is intuitive enough to overcome the screenplay's labored attempts at structure, and the final act of the film, which plays out like a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy, is truly insulting to the eyes and the heart. Sossamon and Hartnett are pretty people, but romantic comedians they are not. I'm still questioning why Erica gets so upset about Matt's resolution at the start of the film when they've only gone out on one date? Seems a bit too irrational, even for a screenplay.

There are some other, disgustingly self-satisfied touches that Lehmann goes out of his way to shove down our throats. From the oh-so-cutesy Web employment (Matt is a Web designer, Erica a cyber-nanny) all the characters share to the way the office in which they work in seems to have been staffed by massive layoffs down at the local strip bar. Apparently sexual harassment litigation just isn't an issue in Matt's world. Hey, I wasn't looking for reality in a film such as this, but Lehmann overdoes the precious touches to a point of distraction.

I didn't find myself laughing even once at "40 Days And 40 Nights," and that's not for lack of trying. There is not one single image or performance in the film that shouldn't have been carefully rethought by another, better director. A director with the foresight to rewrite the script, change the locations, recast the principals and jettison the last 15 minutes. That's the kind of overhaul "40 Days" would need to work properly.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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