They got the story wrong. “40 Days and 40 Nights” is about a young guy who, after being dumped by the love of his life, swears to become celibate for the duration of the title. Soon, the women start coming after him, from all angles, and the film assumes that its everyman hero(Josh Hartnett) is irresistible to women, just because he’s a man, and a man stuck in the plot of a comedy. That’s really obnoxious. Wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting to watch a man who couldn’t get sex, because he was unattractive, psychologically damaged, something?
The guy’s name is Matt, a dot-comer, who’s devastated when his girlfriend(Vinessa Shaw) dumps him for a rich guy. He sinks into an empty abyss of one night sexual encounters which leads him to make his pledge. Predictably, he then meets the woman of his dreams(Shannyn Sossamon), the one woman he can’t say no to. There’s plenty of other woman too. In fact, it seems that the entire female population has taken action on Matt’s bet, and each of them will do anything to make him lose.
Is Josh Hartnett that sexy? I have no idea, but there’s nothing in the character of Matt to suggest why he would be the object of so many women’s affections? Hartnett’s a very cold actor, which is fine when put into the right role, but I’m not sure that romantic comedy is the right part for him, like in the way that Christopher Walken’s a cold actor. In “Black Hawk Down” and “O,” Hartnett’s cultivated a shy, hillbilly persona that doesn’t seem aggressive enough to be a womanizer. I’m more apt to blame the “40 Days and 40 Nights” script however. Matt’s a drip.
This film would’ve been a lot funnier if the filmmaker’s had shown the slightest bit of imagination in terms of the plot’s comic possibilities. Example: What if Matt’s friends, all of whom are betting on whether or not he can make it or not, started paying women to try and seduce Matt, or set up emotional obstacles for him that drove him to the brink of madness? The film barely even scratches the surface of what it’s trying to be about. Instead, the supporting characters kind of treat Matt as a freak.
Speaking of freaks, “40 Days and 40 Nights” has all of the usual ornaments of the post-teen sex movie genre. Among the gruesome highlights are when Matt’s boss confides to him about his own twisted sex life, which leads to a scene of him masturbating off-screen, and then there’s a real howler when Matt visits his parents house and Mom and Dad talk about all of the new sexual techniques they’ve been trying out since Dad had surgery. Real nice.
This is a long way of saying that “40 Days and 40 Nights” isn’t funny. But it is full of gorgeous woman, and maybe on some sick psychosexual level, people will get off on this film. Personally, I’m reminded of that wonderful 1989 film “Say Anything,” now considered one of the best romantic-comedies of all time. I think if the makers of “40 Days and 40 Nights” screened that film after they made this they would be deeply embarrassed at how one film can be so boring, crude, and unimaginative, while another film can be so perceptive and witty. But there are beautiful woman in this film, and that’s always some kind of virtue, and I have a strange feeling that no matter how much of a failure this film is as a comedy, that there’ll be a lot of people who get what they paid for. If I’m wrong, then it’s just a dumb comedy. I have a feeling I’m right.