Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied
If you were a young man in the Peace Corps assigned to
Afghanistan under the Taliban, what would you miss most?
Razor blades? Hardly. Music? Maybe for some. The answer
is pretty obvious. Movies. Could you do without seeing a single
film for 24 months? I doubt it. You'd probably come back in a
straitjacket, screaming in agony. Which is probably why there
was never a Peace Corps member assigned to Afghanistan
under the Taliban.
Josh Hartnett's character, Matt, in Michael Lehmann's "40
Days and 40 Nights," denies himself what he wants most. Sex.
For forty days and forty nights. No women, no self-gratification.
You'd hardly call sex an addiction since every healthy person
feels the need (even from the age of two, as Freud suggest), but
it's hardly as strong a passion as the urge to see movies.
Nonetheless for Matt and his disbelieving friends, he takes the
vow of celibacy. So skeptical, in fact, are his pals, that they take
bets to whether he can pull it off, er, not pull it off, and when the
kitty builds to $18,000 the guys who wager that he won't
succeed make sure he's keeping his side of the bargain. His
roommate even has a special light that he uses to scan Matt's
sheets to see that, as he puts it, "no fluids are liberated."
You wouldn't think a one-joke comedy can pull it off (so to
speak) for ninety-two minutes but thanks to a snappy script by
Rob Perez, swift pacing by director Michael Lehmann, and
perhaps most of all the clean-cut good looks and affable
personality of Josh Hartnett, "40 Days" succeeds in keeping the
audience charmed, smiling, and happy. What's particularly
admirable is that despite its "R" rating, this Miramax release
shows how a subject that could easily become the vulgar pic du
jour in a genre that stretches from "There's Something About
Marry" to "Van Wilder," need not be off-the wall ham-fisted and
tasteless but can intelligently treat a subject that has kept
audiences in stitches since the days of Aristophanes. What we
have here is a group of kids in their early twenties who can utter
complete sentences without a "like" or "totally" or "y'know"
What motivates the action, or inaction, of the central character
is that Matt has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Nicole
(Vinessa Shaw) and tries to get her out of his mind by shacking
up with a bevy of gorgeous women. The trouble is that each
relationship reaches an impasse when Matt, at a moment that
he should be happiest, imagines that the ceiling is cracking. He
believes that his problem is his fixation on sex with Nicole (who
is now engaged to another guy) and that he can recover his
sanity by freeing himself from desire. Thus his vow to have not a
single sexual relationship, not even with himself, for 40 days
(the period of time that Jesus went into the desert to test his
ability to deflect Satan's temptations).
If working for a dot-com company is anything like the way it's
portrayed in this fun film, how disastrous that so many of these
organizations went belly-up during the past couple of years.
Matt is surrounded by fun guys, seductive women, and best of
all he "clicks" with the lovely girl-next-door type, Erica (Shannyn
Sossamon). True to the conventions of romantic comedy,
director Lehmann and scripter Rob Perez make sure to put
obstacles in their way to keep them apart as long as they can
until their inevitable reconciliation. Along the way, we're treated
to some solid comic interaction by an ensemble of young people
who look as though they're enjoying themselves as much as we
Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten