40 Days And 40 Nights

Packaged and market-ready in 20 words or less, the tawdry high-concept comedy 40 Days And 40 Nights has half a pitch in its title alone, making it the easiest sell for advertisers and lifestyle magazines since Demi Moore was turned out for a million bucks in Indecent Proposal. The film's water-cooler question, "Will a handsome young man be able to give up sex (including self-gratification) for Lent?" echoes the premise of a classic Seinfeld episode ("The Contest") that managed to broach a taboo subject while tiptoeing shrewdly around the censors. Without the constraints of television, 40 Days isn't forced to the same level of invention, so it lazily coasts on predictable frathouse hijinks and a chaste romance forged on more substantial things than physical attraction, such as fabric softener and shared confusion over the meaning of the word "tryst." Lost in the mix is a stealth satire on the late-'90s dot-com boom, where hip twentysomethings occupy prime San Francisco office space but it's never clear what service they provide. (Since the time when the movie was shot, these dumb characters would almost certainly have lost their jobs.) Meanwhile, they're heavily invested in launching an Internet betting pool on whether fellow employee Josh Hartnett will accomplish his goal of staying abstinent for Lent. Still reeling from a breakup with his longtime girlfriend (Vinessa Shaw), Hartnett believes his vow of chastity will help clear his mind and keep him from making the same romantic mistakes again. But his experiment hits an early snag when he meets prospective soulmate Shannyn Sossamon in a laundromat and they start dating, leading inevitably to a night when she wants more from him than a high five. Directed by comedy veteran Michael Lehmann (Heathers), 40 Days runs more smoothly and stylishly than the average teen comedy, but it's no wiser about human relationships, viewing matters of the heart with all the intelligence and sophistication of a dating show. There are a few funny early gags about Hartnett reverting back to prepubescent interests, such as painting model cars, but Lehmann apparently encouraged him to act like a strung-out heroin addict, bugging his eyes with a tight-lipped expression that suggests he hasn't allowed anything to exit his body in weeks. Hartnett's oddly vacant good looks made him a striking object of desire in The Virgin Suicides and a chillingly enigmatic villain in O, but he doesn't have the energy for manic comedy, and his discomfort spoils the fun. But even Jack Lemmon in his prime couldn't fake his way through the smutty one-liners and slapstick in 40 Days, which owes more to Bruce Villanch's jokebook than the screwball comedy tradition.

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