40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS - DVD review

...with so much great new stuff available, anybody would want to spend money renting or buying a raunchy, smarmy, tawdry piece of nonsense.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

Around the same time as the DVD issue of "40 Days and 40 Nights," a number of other films were released on disc, Academy Award winners like "Amadeus," "Unforgiven," and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"; family fare like "The Rookie" and "Monsters, Inc."; swashbuckling adventures like "The Count of Monte Cristo"; unique Tarantino films like "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs"; moving dramas like "We Were Soldiers"; brilliant documentaries like Ken Burns' "The Civil War"; and certified classics like "A Hard Day's Night" and "Singin' in the Rain." The reason I mention this is because it makes me wonder why, with so much great new stuff available, anybody would want to spend money renting or buying a raunchy, smarmy, tawdry piece of nonsense.

Yes, I've heard the usual response: Films like 2002's "40 Days and 40 Nights" are meant to be harmless fun, brainless diversions that aren't supposed to be taken seriously or be scrutinized too closely. The fact is, though, it's two hours of a person's life involved, besides the bucks, and I personally value my time more highly than to waste it. OK, I do admit that one person's gem is another person's junk, and some of you may consider "Singin' in the Rain" a waste of time. But you come here for an opinion, you get an opinion, and my opinion is that my time expended on "40 Days and 40 Nights" could have better been spent on other pursuits. Like answering my wife's call to take out the garbage.

To its credit, "40 Days and 40 Nights" tries mightily to be good-natured and lighthearted, and to this end it succeeds, at least up until the very end where a fairly serious moral episode is treated, I thought, much too casually. No, the problem with the film is not its breezy attitude; it is that it's entirely one-dimensional and (dare I say it?) boring. The movie involves just one thing from beginning to end: sex. Or, more precisely, the results of not having sex. Now, don't get me wrong; I have nothing against sex. But too much of a good thing, like ninety-five minutes of running sex jokes and sexual innuendos, gets tiresome, especially when none of it is very funny or very sexy.

The film stars the popular and amiable young actor, Josh Hartnett, from "Pearl Harbor," "O," and "Black Hawk Down." And that's about as far as the amiability of any of the characters extends. In fact, because Hartnett is in practically every scene, it's as though the film were written specifically for and around him. I don't know. In any case, he plays a young San Francisco dot.commer named Matt, who since breaking up with his girlfriend, Nicole, can't be with another woman without having panic attacks. He even takes to faking orgasms to get by. But aside from his sexual appetite, he's a good Catholic, so he decides there's only one thing to do to purge his mind of Nicole: He gives up sex for Lent.

That's right; he vows not to have sex for forty days and forty nights. No sex, no touching, no fondling, no sexual intimacy of any kind, and no masturbation. He figures if he can maintain this temporary vow of celibacy, everything in his life will turn out OK. He will grow stronger through self denial and sacrifice. His brother and confidant, an aspiring priest, tells him he won't last a week, and his buddies at work form an Internet betting pool on how long he'll be able to hold out. Matt does fine until he meets Erica (Shannyn Sossamon) and falls in love; then his vow starts to hurt really bad. So, the comedy turns to romance; but I found little chemistry in their relationship. It just becomes another plot device to further the sex gags.

And that's it. That's the whole story line. Basically, the plot is an excuse for a ton of vulgar language, sex, and nudity. Now, here's the real kicker: The only thing everyone has on his or her mind throughout the entire story is sex. As Matt's roommate says, "You can pass off two dates without a kiss as old-fashioned; you go three and you're a homo." That appears to be the attitude of every person in the story. Everybody sleeps with one another; everybody sleeps together on the first date; everybody talks dirty; everybody thinks, breathes, acts, and lives for sex twenty-four hours a day. Everybody Matt works with, including his boss, is horny; the women at his office, after finding out about his vow, try to seduce him; even Matt's mom and dad discuss sex and sexual positions with their kids at the dinner table!

What's more, every woman under thirty in the movie (and almost every woman here is under thirty) is gorgeous beyond compare, while the young men, Hartnett excepted, are rather average looking. Was this meant as part of the movie's overall humor, or was it a typical sexist appeal to a young male audience? And why was the movie set in San Francisco, given the homophobic joke cited above and given what little advantage is taken of the City's spectacular scenery? Was it only to capitalize on the City's dot.com revolution, which in any case died just prior to the movie's release? Even the complete stranger he meets and falls in love with, Erica, works for a dot.com company, CyberNanny, which monitors the Web for pornographic material. It's Erica's job to look at porn sites all day and block them, giving the movie yet another excuse to talk dirty and show dirty pictures.

So you get the idea. "40 Days and 40 Nights" is one, lengthy sex gag, which quickly becomes enough to gag on. It lumbers along like an off-color television sitcom trying to be pleasant and get as much mileage as possible off Hartnett's good looks and smile, but it doesn't succeed. All the characters in the story are over twenty-one and work for the computer industry, yet they all act like immature, juvenile, sex-mad cretins. The film elicited one smile from me in its entire running time. I'm not going to tell you where, because I'm a little embarrassed to admit it myself. The film is appropriately rated R for profanity, sexual situations, simulated sex, and nudity. Say, if that doesn't sell it, what will?

There's not a lot to the picture or sound quality to commend it, either, both being as ordinary for a new movie as they can be. The screen size is an ordinary 1.74:1 anamorphic ratio across a normal television. The image is slightly soft and fuzzy, with a touch of grain. In its favor, the colors are fairly natural and well set off by dark contrasts, at least when those dark contrasts aren't consuming the whole picture. I noticed some occasional moiré effects, but nothing more serious. It's just an unremarkable visual presentation.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound comes through just as lacking in distinction as the picture quality. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it; it's just there, doing its job. The frequency spectrum is nicely balanced for dialogue, although perhaps a trifle bright for real life, and the overall clarity is nicely articulated. There are no instances of deep bass or extreme highs, but there are no circumstances that require them. The back speakers are hardly utilized at all, but, again, there is little need for their presence as most of the film is made up of background music and people speaking.

There is very little to speak of in terms of bonus material. The main item is an audio commentary with director Michael Lehmann, coproducer Michael London, and screenwriter Robert Perez. Then, there are Buena Vista's usual "Sneak Peeks" at other studio titles, a scant nineteen scene selections, and a pan-and-scan teaser trailer. English and French are available for spoken languages, with Spanish subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
OK, let's recap: According to the movie, if you're under thirty, you're single. If you're under thirty and female, you're beautiful. If you're under thirty, male or female, you sleep with a different partner every night. If you're alive, you're horny. The movie reminded me of a beer commercial during a football game, with about as much depth but not nearly the wit.

If it's bawdy, brain-dead humor you're after, you're better off with something like "Van Wilder." Although I didn't like that movie nearly as much as my colleague who reviewed it, "Van Wilder" at least had a few good laughs and a smile, something "40 Days and 40 Nights" never brings off. What's more, "Van Wilder," as dumb as it is, has the courage of its convictions; it knows it's nothing more than a vulgar sex comedy and pretends to little else. "40 Days and 40 Nights," on the other hand, has the gall to presume itself an earnest romantic comedy. It isn't.


Film Value