Josh Hartnett plays Matt Sullivan, a guy whose serious relationship with Nicole (Vinessa Shaw, Domino from Eyes Wide Shut) ended six months prior. Since then, he cannot commit to other women because he is still hung up on her. Not even when Matt and his roommate Ryan (Paulo Costanzo) bring home a couple of hot looking dates can he muster the desire to have sex with them. Looking for advice on his relationship matters, Matt turns to his brother John (Adam Trese), who has no female issues because has given his life to the church. Since Matt's visit with his brother coincides with Lent, he decides that abstaining from all things sexual will help him recover from his heartbreak. Ah, if only things were so easy.
Word spreads quickly of Matt's plan, and of course the fun begins. At the dot-com where he designs web pages, his male co-workers come up with an elaborate web site to track Matt's progress on his goal and take bets on when he will break his vow. His female co-workers become temptresses as they try to seduce him in every corner of the office - even on top of the copy machine! But Matt is up to his challenge and he does what he can to minimize the urges - hiding all of his girlie magazines, videos, pictures, and lubrication. He even cancels his Friday night plans for the next month, opting to spend time doing laundry instead of partying with the newest office co-ed.
It is at the laundromat where Matt meets Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), a fellow dot-comer who is also fed up with her dating life and has found washing clothes on a Friday night to be a peaceful escape. Their budding relationship causes entirely new problems for Matt, as he cannot fully commit to this new relationship because of his lingering feelings for Nicole. Erica realizes Matt is unlike other guys she has dated and wants to take their relationship to the next level (think sexual) but cannot because of his vow of abstinence unbeknownst to her. This creates an awkward and humorous moment at the end of their first date when she leans in for a kiss but only gets a "high five" in return from Matt.
Michael Lehmann (Heathers, The Truth About Cats and Dogs) directs 40 Days and 40 Nights with a similar in-your-face humor style that made the Farrelly brother's There's Something About Mary so outrageously fun, despite its offensiveness. This film will offend anyone who finds masturbation, erections, and public nudity objectionable, but they will likely be deterred by the film's ads anyhow. The film does have its problems: There is very little character development, the church is disrespected, and women are objectified. For example, Matt's boss (Griffin Dunne) complains that his wife is withholding sex from him, so as the female staff parade around the office in their short skirts and tight blouses he feels fully justified in indicating his sexual desire for them. It's nothing short of sexual harassment.
Even though the film doesn't take itself seriously, Rob Perez's script does pass along important messages about the values of using a condom, the value of emotional over physical attractions, and the complications that sex causes in relationships. These messages are sometimes hard to find, especially when Perez sends Matt flying through clouds shaped as nipples, or walking down the street surrounded by topless women. Anyone who's looking for a movie with deep messages or an honest look at abstinence should stay away.
Hartnett and Sossamon produce great chemistry, even though we know little about them, and their connection is largely superficial. The scenes inside the laundromat as their relationship develops are genuine, and later, they show us that eroticism is not always about having sex. The supporting cast produces some standout performances as well. With lines such as, "Give your star player the support he needs," and "You're gonna piss off the seeds," roommate Costanzo's shtick never tires as he is able to provide catchy metaphors to torment Matt and his vow of abstinence. Even the minor roles like Matt's parents provide many of the film's more memorable scenes. Matt seeks refuge in their company; yet the only thing his father wants to discuss over dinner is his research study on the Kama Sutra.
40 Days and 40 Nights works as guilty pleasure; there are plenty of great laughs which sustain the film despite its faults. Getting through Lent has never been so much fun!
The DVD includes few extras aside from a reasonably interesting commentary track -- the best parts putting the San Francisco dot-com boom into perspective (gosh, has been that long?).
Hartnett doesn't blow.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 1st March 2002
Box Office USA: $37.9M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Production compaines: Miramax Films, Universal Pictures, Working Title Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 84
IMDB: 5.6 / 10
Director: Michael Lehmann
Screenwriter: Rob Perez
Starring: Josh Hartnett as Matt Sulivan, Shannyn Sossamon as Erica Sutton, Adam Trese as John Sullivan, Emmanuelle Vaugier as Susie, Barry Newman as Walter Sullivan, Mary Gross as Bev Sullivan, Paulo Costanzo as Ryan, Keegan Connor Tracy as Mandy, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Sam, Michael C. Maronna as Bagel Boy