In “40 Days and 40 Nights,” the beleaguered Matt (Josh Hartnett), unable to get over being dumped by the love of his life, gives up personal contact for Lent. That means forty days and forty nights without kissing, touching, biting, scratching and, most importantly, self-pleasure.
When I give up something for Lent, it only makes me crave it more. In this tasteless wad of testosterone, Matt believes a forty-day purge will cure him of his obsessions. If junk like that worked, I’d never see another chocolate cream Oreo. But it’s evident from the get-go that screenwriter Rob Perez knows as much about both self-discipline and Catholicism as I know about echocardiography. He just assumes the premise is funny. He’s incorrect.The rest is as predictable as it is vulgar. Matt’s best intentions are foiled when the lovely Erica (Shannyn Sossamon) fights to mix her colors with his whites at the local laundromat. Is that love in the air, or lint? Meanwhile, Matt’s friends turn the “vow” of celibacy into a bet, possibly because a drinking game would have been too complicated.Director Michael Lehmann zaps the story along with visual pizzazz, crafting some frivolous giggles. Perez’ script, however, never understands the motivations of its own characters. Giving up sex shouldn’t be hard for Matt, because we’re initially led to believe he’s afraid of it. His obsession with Nicole prevents him from closing the deal with a number of gorgeous (and willing) women. So when Matt explains the Lenten concept as giving up “something that you love,” we’re puzzled. He doesn’t love sex. He’s actually grown to loathe it.As Matt and Erica’s relationship evolves, we reach the inevitable moment where she learns about his vow, despite the fact that he has scrambled to keep it secret. Why, I can’t figure out. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t tell her the truth. She might have found it commendable. Instead, the screenplay requires Erica to get mad at Matt because he’s not trying to get into her pants. What girl would react like that? His bout of self-discipline makes him noble. Her not understating it makes her petty, selfish and bitchy.This route fails because of Sossamon’s natural charms. Beautiful and spirited, she inadvertently makes the wooden Hartnett seem numb. If you want to have some real fun, though, give Paolo Costanzo – who plays Matt’s roommate, Ryan – his own starring role. He converts more then enough tired lines into comedic gems, proving it’s his delivery, and not the material, that made me chuckle. “40 Days” may have missed the boat on the sex comedy genre, but it does contribute some new theories about the downfall of the dot.com industry. In this film, dot.com employees dress like strippers and endlessly rap about sex while their CEO inadvertently pops Viagra and strives to break the office’s masturbation record. Who wouldn’t want to invest in that?Grade: DBy Sean O’ConnellMarch 1, 2002